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Union threatens ‘one of the largest strikes in Canadian history’ after vote

Click to play video: '‘Overwhelming majority’ of public servants prepared to strike, PSAC says'
‘Overwhelming majority’ of public servants prepared to strike, PSAC says
WATCH - ‘Overwhelming majority' of public servants prepared to strike, PSAC says – Apr 12, 2023

The union representing 120,000 federal public servants says an “overwhelming majority” of its members have voted in favour of a strike.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) announced Wednesday morning the results of its strike votes, which were held between Feb. 22 and April 11 for workers in program and administrative services, technical services, education and library science, and operational services groups.

“An overwhelming majority of our members have told us they can’t wait any longer and they are prepared to strike to secure a fair deal that won’t see them fall behind,” Chris Aylward, PSAC national president, told reporters at a news conference in Ottawa, citing a desire for increased wages for members.

“Our members don’t take the decision to strike lightly. They know that a strike will be difficult for them and for the Canadians who depend on the services they provide, but they’re exercising their bargaining power because they just can’t wait any longer. Their bills can’t wait, their families can’t wait and their futures can’t wait.”

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The four bargaining units involved are part of the Treasury Board Secretariat, a central government agency that operates effectively as a nerve centre for a significant amount of work related to the basic functioning of the federal government. Members include cleaners and cooks on military bases, clerks and maintenance workers, tradespeople, Coast Guard search and rescue teams, teachers, firefighters and workers who process employment insurance, passport applications and immigration documents.  

Aylward said the units were in a legal strike position as of Wednesday, but the union’s desire is to reach a deal with the federal government. Its division representing 35,000 Canadian Revenue Agency workers also voted in favour of a strike last week, and will be in a legal position to do so Friday.

The union would not reveal to Global News the voting results, with a spokesperson saying union policy is not to reveal exact numbers for “strategic reasons.”

Click to play video: 'Range of services will be impacted if public servant workers go on strike, union says'
Range of services will be impacted if public servant workers go on strike, union says

“It’s not too late for the government to do the right thing and avoid one of the largest strikes in Canadian history,” Aylward said.

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“Our bargaining teams are here this week at the bargaining table in this very hotel where we’re standing. All they need is folks across the bargaining table with the mandate to reach a fair deal, and there’s no reason they can’t get it.”

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In response to PSAC, Ottawa said in a statement its goal is to reach an agreement with the union. It said it is continuing to negotiate with PSAC, and over the past week, has made “significant headway, addressing many union demands.”

“There are many areas where both parties could reach a compromise, including wage increases, and if the PSAC shares our commitment to bargain in good faith, we can reach agreements quickly at the bargaining table,” the government said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters in Winnipeg Wednesday afternoon the government recognizes the “incredible work” public servants do.

“On the collective bargaining that’s going on right now, it’s really important that that happens at the collective bargaining table,” Trudeau said.

“That’s where the best and the right deals get done, and that’s why we’re going to continue to engage in a constructive way at the bargaining table.”

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Click to play video: 'Union won’t compromise on wage demands ‘to get remote work,’ Aylward says'
Union won’t compromise on wage demands ‘to get remote work,’ Aylward says

Earlier this year, the federal government filed two complaints against PSAC over claims the union is not negotiating “in good faith” for a new deal.

The government alleges that PSAC has “flooded the bargaining tables with costly proposals,” with at least 500 proposals over its five bargaining units, while saying that PSAC has “refused to prioritize their requests, refused to move on their initial proposals, and did not respond to the employer’s comprehensive offers.”

PSAC left the bargaining table on Sept. 1, 2022, during the sixth negotiation session and declared an impasse. The parties had been negotiating since last summer.

The union has said that the federal government’s move to file a complaint is “just another stalling tactic to deny workers a fair contract.” It has alleged the government has refused to “negotiate remote work and better work-life balance at the table.”

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Click to play video: 'Federal government outlines how often public servants will need to work in office'
Federal government outlines how often public servants will need to work in office

Last week, PSAC, which is one of Canada’s largest unions, announced that a majority of Union of Taxation Employees voted in favour of taking strike action. A final round of negotiations is set for April 17-20 between PSAC and CRA.

When combined, the 35,000 CRA workers and the 120,000 Treasury Board workers make up 155,000 federal employees, which is roughly half of the staff of the 335,957 employees working with the federal public service.

— with files from Eric Stober

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