Travellers and goods could face delays crossing the International Bridge starting in early August if Canada Border Services Agency’s unionized workers can’t get a new deal with the federal government.
The labour disruption may start Aug.6.That’s just three days before vaccinated Americans can start entering Canada at land crossings after nearly 18 months of not being able to head north because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This could very well jeapordize Canada’s plans to reopen the Canada/U.S. Border,” said Chris Aylward, national president of Public Service Alliance of Canada during an online press conference on Tuesday morning. “If they wanted a smooth reopening of the border then they have to come back to the bargaining table with a fair offer which we have not seen yet.”
The last contract for more than 9,000 members of the Customs and Immigration Union expired more than three years ago. The most recent talks to try and reach a new agreement were held in late 2020.
“The employer has flat out refused to address workplace issues impacting our members,” said Aylward.
Harassment, workplace violence and intimidation are part of “toxic” workplace, alleged Mark Weber, CIU national president. Unionized CBSA workers want “better parity” with other law enforcement agencies.
“Our work is just as important to the safety of Canadians,” said Weber. “Our commitment should be recognized with many of the same benefits that other law enforcement have.”
The employer is also seeking reducing notification of shift changes from seven days to 48 hours. Schedules would become non-negotiable with workers not able to choose their shifts. Accessing leave without pay for care of family would also be affected, Weber says.
Strike votes have been held over the last six weeks with members “overwhelmingly” backing the union’s strike mandate, he adds. Specific vote outcomes were not released by CIU.
“They’re ready to do what it takes to get a fair contract,” said Aylward.
Canadians could see deliveries from Canada Post and couriers slowed. Duties and taxes would not be collected.
“It would be a slowdown of goods and people crossing the border,” said Aylward. “Everything would be slowed down.”
CBSA “will respond to any job action” to ensure security, compliance with laws and to keep the border open to travellers and goods, the federal agency said in a statement.
Ninety per cent of CBSA officers are considered essential “meaning that they will continue to offer essential services if there is a strike.
“We expect that our officers will continue to fulfil their duties with the highlest level of integrity and professionalism,” CBSA says.
CIU is waiting for a Public Interest Commission recommendation in the coming days. The commission’s role is to help federal public service workers reach new pacts with the government.
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