About 9,000 Canadian Border Service Agency workers are preparing to begin job action across the country on Friday and say travellers should expect long lineups and lengthy delays at border crossings and airports.
The Public Service Alliance of Canada and its Customs and Immigration Union, which represent the workers, said that it served a strike notice to the government on Tuesday and is now readying its workers to up the ante.
If a contract isn't reached by 6 a.m. Friday, the union said its members will begin a "sweeping" series of actions at Canadian airports, land borders, commercial shipping ports, postal facilities and headquarters locations.
"We truly hoped we wouldn’t be forced to take strike action, but we’ve exhausted every other avenue to reach a fair contract with the government," said Chris Aylward, the union's national president, in a release.
"Treasury Board and CBSA have been clear they aren’t prepared to address critical workplace issues at CBSA at the bargaining table."
The Treasury Board of Canada said the federal government made a formal request Tuesday for the federal labour relations body to appoint a mediator. It said it has confirmed one will be appointed.
"The Government of Canada has great respect for border services officers and the important work that they do and remains committed to reaching agreements with all bargaining agents that are fair to employees, mindful of today’s economic and fiscal context and reasonable for Canadian taxpayers," reads a statement from the Treasury Board of Canada
"The Government of Canada has reached agreements covering 95 per cent of the federal unionized workforce for this round of bargaining and is confident that an offer has been put forward that provides a reasonable basis on which to reach an agreement."
Ninety per cent of frontline border workers have been identified as essential so they will continue to offer services, if there is a strike, said the CBSA, in an email.
The CBSA "will respond quickly to any job action/work disruption in order to maintain the safety and security of our border, ensure compliance with our laws, and keep the border open to legitimate travellers and goods," said spokesperson Jacqueline Callin.
The dispute comes as Canada is preparing to allow fully vaccinated Americans to visit without having to quarantine starting Aug. 9 and will open the country's borders to travellers from other countries with the required doses of a COVID-19 shot on Sept. 7.
PSAC-CIU represents 5,500 border services officers, 2,000 headquarters staff and other workers at Canada Post facilities and in inland enforcement jobs employed by the CBSA and Treasury Board Secretariat.
The union members have been without a contract for about three years because they and their employers have been unable to agree on better protections for staff that the union argues would bring them in line with other law enforcement personnel across Canada and address a "toxic" workplace culture.
Union members voted last month to strike as early as Friday, if the two sides couldn't reach an agreement, prompting their employers to agree to return to the bargaining table.
The union said a public interest commission formed when the two parties couldn't reach a consensus outlined a series of measures in late July that both sides should explore going forward.
Those measures, said PSAC-CIU, include starting discussions about a paid pensionable meal period for union members, paid firearm practice time, a fitness allowance for officers and new protections for disciplined employees.
The union also said the report encouraged the parties to negotiate expanded seniority rights for scheduling, parameters regarding student work, language ensuring officers aren’t required to work alone and a streamlining of grievance procedures.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 4, 2021.