A sizable group of Whitehorse workers are joining the rest of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) in nationwide job action.
The union, which represents more than 230,000 workers in Canada as per a count on its website, is responding to stalled negotiations on employment contracts for 120,000 federal government workers employed by the treasury board and a further 35,000 working at the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).
Picket lines have been in place outside the Elijah Smith Building in downtown Whitehorse, which houses federal and other government offices, since April 19.
Among those on the picket line on April 20 was Lorraine Rousseau, regional executive vice president for PSAC North.
“They’re feeling good. Morale is high. We know that our senior negotiators are still at the table, they’re still open to the employer bringing a fair deal to the table, and we relayed that information to all the members that come out,” Rousseau said of the strikers and others who were on the picket line in solidarity.
“People are dropping off coffee and doughnuts; we’re getting tons of support from the community, in close proximity here. And we’re hearing from across the territory and the North, how much we’re supported in our efforts.”
PSAC tried to negotiate a new contract with the federal government, a process which the union says has been at an impasse since last spring after bargaining had already been underway for a year. A number of issues including wage increases are on the table.
In the case of the North, where a high cost of living is inescapable, Rousseau said fair wage increases are important, but she also drew attention to the search for specific wording in the collective agreement ensuring those working remotely have the right to disconnect.
Rousseau pinned the strike squarely on the employers.
“We’re forced out here and this is the employers fault and as much as the employer would like to say we’re damaging the economy by asking for a larger wage, we’re not,” she said.
“That wage goes directly back into this community and that’s how we we sustain ourselves. There is no blame to the worker for slowing down services, it is squarely on the shoulders of the employer. This is not down to we don’t want to be on strike, we want to be back at work, but this situation has been forced upon us.”
Rousseau said there are about 160 workers in the Yukon striking as part of the wider treasury board and CRA strike. Along with them, she said support had been received from the Yukon Employees Union (YEU), also a component of PSAC, but conducting separate bargaining, as well as other unions.
YEU issued a notice to its employees, many of who share office buildings with the striking federal workers, reminding them they would not have to cross picket line and that the union would reimburse their wages if they were placed on leave for refusing to do so.
The Yukon NDP also issued a statement expressing its support on the first day of the strike.
According to Rousseau there are more than 600 federal PSAC members across the North. She said the striking workers in the Yukon largely do clerical and administrative work. They are employed “in small pockets all over” including at the RCMP, the Elijah Smith Building and at the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).
“All those services that go to citizens, as we do that public service, those are the things that are going to be slowed down. Because they’re the infrastructure, they’re the ones who make that paperwork move, who make those phone calls, who sends out, you know, those notes and emails to ensure that everybody gets connected, and that the process and procedures move forward,” Rousseau said.
The Whitehorse RCMP detachment issued a notice April 19 regarding a change of hours at the front desk of the detachment with in-person services offered on Mondays from 1 to 4 p.m.
A shutdown of the tax season, disruptions of employment insurance, immigration and passport applications and slowdowns at border crossings can all be expected across Canada.
Rousseau said as of April 20 the number of people on the picket line had ranged from approximately 50 to 120 at any one time.
Contact Jim Elliot at firstname.lastname@example.org