Dozens of federal workers remained on the picket line in Brandon on Monday as the contract battle between their union and their employer continues.
Bargaining between members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada and the Treasury Board made progress over the weekend, including negotiations about remote work language and wage increases, according to a press release issued Sunday.
However, negotiations for the union’s employees with the Canada Revenue Agency were reported to be stagnant.
And so, more than 120,000 PSAC members across the country — including around 75 outside of Brandon’s Service Canada offices on 12th Street — remain on strike.
Strike captain Alicia Zurba, also vice-president of Canada Employment and Immigration Union Local 57054, said there’s some frustration among her colleagues, but morale remains high.
She said residents have been supportive, honking their horns while driving by and even dropping off coffee and baked goods.
“We’re frustrated and disappointed in the Treasury Board for dragging their feet and for the lack of engagement the Treasury Board seems to have at the table this weekend,” Zurba said. “But we’re here and we are coming together in solidarity and camaraderie.”
She said the Treasury Board’s offer of a three per cent annual pay increase is insufficient when the rate of inflation is higher.
“We’ve been hearing some folks talking about how folks in the public service are offered inflation-rate increases every year,” Zurba said. “That’s incorrect. We work off of a contract, our union does our bargaining for us.”
Statistics Canada’s most recent inflation number, issued last week, is at 4.3 per cent. The union is asking for an annual 4.5 per cent wage increase over three years for its Treasury Board employees, while the request for CRA employees is for 4.5 per cent retroactive to 2021, eight per cent retroactive to last year and another eight per cent this year.
Zurba said her colleagues make the same amount of money in their positions no matter where they live, meaning some workers in more expensive cities are disadvantaged.
Other locations in Westman hosting PSAC picket lines, according to the union’s online picket finder, are Dauphin-Swan River-Neepawa MP Dan Mazier’s offices in Neepawa and Dauphin. According to Zurba, some of her colleagues are also picketing at CFB Shilo, though it is not listed online.
First reported by the National Post on Saturday, a federal labour board responding to a complaint made against the union’s strike vote issued a report listing several irregularities in the process.
The report states just 42,421 employees voted during proceedings, around 35 per cent of those eligible to do so. On top of that, the voting deadline was shortened from April 19 to April 11 while voting was underway.
However, it also notes more than 80 per cent of employees who voted in each bargaining unit were in favour of striking.
Asked if she or her colleagues in Brandon had heard of these alleged irregularities or if they had any concerns about the strike vote process, Zurba said she was unaware of the situation and directed further questions to PSAC’s Prairies office in Winnipeg.
Marianne Hladun, the PSAC regional executive vice-president for the Prairies, downplayed potential issues during a phone interview.
“If you look at any organization, voter turnout for anything has been decreasing,” she said. “The fact that we had 100,000 members out on the picket line on Day 1 of the strike gave us the answer we’ve been looking for.”
She said the bargaining demands and priorities the union is presenting came from its members.
“They’re not willing to settle on our priorities,” she said. “We need to see some movement on those.”
When it comes to what she’s hoping Canadians take away from the current contract battle, Hladun said the union didn’t want to strike, but negotiations have been dragged out by two years of delaying tactics from the federal government.
Treasury Board president Mona Fortier sent an open letter to public servants and Canadians on Monday afternoon, identifying four main areas of disagreement that remain between the government and the Public Service Alliance of Canada: wages, teleworking, outsourcing contracts and seniority rules in the event of a layoff.
The government wants to reach a fair deal for employees that reflects their value, she said.
“However, any settlement must be reasonable for all Canadians, whether we are talking about this or future rounds of collective bargaining,” she wrote.
Chris Aylward, president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, said Sunday the union would be upping the picket line plan this week and targeting strategic locations with a bigger impact on the federal government.
“We’re actually going to be escalating those actions,” he said. Aylward specifically listed ports of entry as one example, and on Monday workers did set up outside the Port of Montreal.
Port Authority spokeswoman Renée Larouche said in an email the protest delayed the arrival of trucks, causing minor slowdowns, but that by 1 p.m. local time, everything had returned to normal.
In Ottawa, where most federal civil servants live and work, there were few signs of an amped up picketing presence. At midday, a roving band of about 200 strikers were spotted wandering somewhat aimlessly around the streets near Parliament Hill.
A picket captain standing in front of the Parliament buildings told The Canadian Press they were kicked off the Hill itself due to another protest happening.
However, as of 2 p.m., the Hill was almost empty, and the workers had settled outside a federal building a few blocks away.
Fortier said Monday in her open letter that the two sides had reached agreement on most of the 570 demands the union initially made. Most of that progress came in the last three weeks of mediation, she said.
Even as Fortier provided those updates, there seemed to be a complete stoppage of progress with a separate negotiation involving Canada Revenue Agency workers who are members of the Union of Taxation Employees, a PSAC subdivision.
Taxation union president Marc Brière said the two sides hadn’t been at the bargaining table in almost a week now, as CRA workers strike alongside their colleagues from other departments and agencies.
Brière said the union is waiting for the government to come back with a fair offer and is ready to come back to the bargaining table when that happens.
“There’s been close to zero progress over the weekend, and we are very upset,” said Brière.
» email@example.com, with files from The Canadian Press
» Twitter: @ColinSlark