Federal workers take to picket lines in Kingston

Nearly a third of Canada’s public service workers are on strike after contract talks with the federal government failed to see a deal met before the Tuesday night deadline.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) represents roughly 155,000 federal workers, with more than 4,500 of those members working in Kingston.

Even though tens of thousands of those members are deemed essential employees and can’t strike, over 100,000 have walked off the job.

With the sheer number of members at over 250 picket lines across the country, it’s one of the biggest strikes ever seen nationally.

CFB Kingston, Collins Bay institution, and Joyceville institution were the three sites of Kingston picket lines on Wednesday, the first day of what neither side hopes will be a long strike.

Striking employees come from a wide variety of federal government jobs from Service Canada employees to corrections workers, and although there are only picket lines in three Kingston locations right now Jacqueline Whyman, Local President of UTE (a component of PSAC representing CRA employees), says that could change.

“Depending on how all of this goes we do have alternate ideas in mind that maybe have a little more impact,” Whyman said.

“But you know, we’re going to wait to see how it goes and hopefully the employer will get back to the table and offer us something that’s half decent.”

The core issue is wages, with striking members feeling that the federal government’s offer falls far short of what is fair and meets the needs of members during rampant inflation.

In the most recent public round of offers, PSAC asked for 4.5% raises for 2021, 2022, and 2023 while the government’s offer was a Treasury Board recommended raise of 9% over 3 years.

The federal government has called PSAC’s demands unreasonable.

For many employees, the ability to continue to work from home is also a big issue.

Whyman says so many of the workers that are part of this strike have, out of necessity, reframed their life around working from home and don’t want to be pushed back into the office.

“The employers asked us to pivot, work from home, get all these benefits out to the general public who were in need of them… then they praised us for being able to do that,” Whyman said.

“We’ve all rearranged our lives to have a better work/life balance and now that’s kind of being taken away from us and we’re being forced into the office when we were fine and capable of doing our work from home.”

Tim Nolan, Local President of USJE, the unit representing Collins Bay employees, said while it impacts less of his fellow members a work from home agreement is still something that should be negotiated.

“Public service put a lot of people through the pandemic, and they kept doing their jobs, and they did them remotely,” Nolan said.

“If they could do them remotely, the return to work has to be part of the collective agreement.”

While CRA workers are among those striking, there hasn’t been any extension given to deadline for filing tax returns.

During the strike passport applications will not be processed other than a few exceptions, immigration applications will be all but paused, and CRA services like tax refunds are sure to be delayed.

A local representative for the PSAC bargaining team could not be reached for comment in time for publication.

Updates on the bargaining process from the federal government can be found here.