Another union – IBEW – reaches a wage deal, plus: find your picket line.
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Brought to you by Kathryn May.
Hi all. It’s Friday. No strike yet. In fact, Treasury Board and Public Service Alliance of Canada expect this week’s last-ditch round of negotiations will extend into the weekend. A sign of progress? Well, the parties have been huddled in mediated talks all week to hammer out common issues for 155,000 workers – who are awaiting word on whether or not they are walking off the job. The top issue is wages. Treasury Board has yet to table its long-awaited revised offer so the real wrangling can begin.
Here we go: See the pattern?: Think back to the ACFO wage deal last fall. Turning point: Today’s the day when 155,000 public servants are in a legal strike position. Where’s my picket line?: There’s a barcode for that.
But now a new wrinkle. In the midst of all this, Treasury Board reached a wage settlement with another federal union worth 10.5 per cent over four years, which sends the strongest signal yet of the kind of deal the government wants to make with PSAC. The drama unfolds. Will PSAC take or leave a 10.5-per-cent raise? Or will they strike for more?
It’s expected Treasury Board will table the same or a very similar offer it made in negotiating the deal it reached with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). It’s a 10.5-per-cent raise over four years, plus a 0.5-per-cent market adjustment in 2023 and a signing bonus worth two per cent of annual salary. Here’s the deal:
3.5 per cent for 2022 3.0 per cent for 2023 0.5 per cent in 2023 (market adjustment) 2.0 per cent for 2024 2.0 per cent for 2025
There’s more…The deal includes other improvements and a promise to talk about telework – remote work in public-service parlance – but the financial package is worth about 11 per cent – with the wage adjustment. Plus a signing bonus.
What PSAC wants: 13.5 per cent over three years:
4.5 per cent in 2021 4.5 per cent in 2022 4.5 per cent in 2023 That’s 14.12 per cent when compounded.
IBEW has explained to members why it thinks the deal is reasonable. The union says electronic technologists are still underpaid compared with their private-sector counterparts, but the “bargaining team believes it tested the boundaries of what could be reasonably accomplished with the employer in this round of bargaining.” The deal now goes to members for a ratification vote.
See a pattern there? That’s basically the four-year wage deal the government reached with its financial officers, represented by Association of Canadian Financial Officers (ACFO), last fall. (ACFO got a 0.5-per-cent adjustment, too). Coincidentally, Treasury Board gave the military a 10.5-per-cent raise last month. (Military not unionized so no bargaining.)
That’s two unions that have agreed to similar deals. Why is that significant? Treasury Board wants to use them to set the pattern for wage deals with the 26 other unions it is still negotiating with.
Won’t wash. PSAC is the largest union, the most militant, and considers itself the hard negotiator that gets the deals and sets the precedent for other unions. Historically, it has set the wage pattern and will probably argue the two small unions don’t represent enough workers to set the pattern.
Also, IBEW and ACFO each represent a largely homogeneous membership with the same concerns and demands. Not as complicated and politically fraught as PSAC.
But labour observers say the deal strengthens Treasury Board’s hand – and could sway public opinion on a possible strike. It can now can point to two unions – including the one representing the government’s finance wizards and accountants – that decided 10.5 per cent is a reasonable deal.
Clearly, there is some wiggle room for adjustments and perks like signing bonuses. But can PSAC wangle enough to satisfy such a large and disparate group of workers who sometimes have competing demands? For example, remote is a big issue for office workers, but PSAC’s technical and operational workers aren’t interested in it. They have to go the workplace to do their jobs. PSAC President Chris Aylward has also said he will won’t make wage trade-offs for remote work.
Fish or cut bait. So, here’s the turning point in the year-long and protracted dispute over wages. Today marks the day when 155,000 of Canada’s public servants who voted overwhelmingly for strike are officially in a legal strike position. It’s also the last day for scheduled mediated talks between Treasury Board and PSAC negotiators on the big common issues for all those workers.
PSAC made it clear earlier this week that it wouldn’t be calling a strike before Friday. The 35,000 workers at Canada Revenue Agency were not in a legal strike position until today and PSAC doesn’t want to go out without them. The withdrawal of their services is central to pressuring the government by slowing and delaying tax processing during the last leg of the tax season. Here’s a lineup of other services that could be affected by strike.
PSAC and the tax agency negotiators are scheduled for a round of mediated talks next week (April 17 to 20) on issues specific to tax employees. If talks collapse over the hot-button wage issue this weekend, will PSAC go back to the table for those mediated talks? PSAC has called a press conference for Monday morning for an update on the “status of negotiations.”
No crossing picket lines; no virtual picketing. PSAC is doubling down on strike readiness across the country. Big focus on remote workers who can work from home, but they can’t strike from there. There is no virtual strike duty. Also, working at home is crossing the picket line.
Picket finders. Picket lines, like in the old days before hybrid work, will be set up across the country, and workers eligible to strike are expected to show up. They can strike at locations closest to them, and PSAC has picket finders to help them. The union will send workers a barcode to scan to help find the nearest picket line. That barcode will be scanned when workers arrive at the picket line. Workers have to spend four hours a day supporting strike action to get strike pay.
PSAC says picket lines show strength of unionization and key solidarity and visibility.
Kathryn May writes about the federal public service for Policy Options magazine. She is the Accenture Fellow on the Future of the Public Service, providing coverage and analysis of the complex issues facing Canada’s federal public service. She has spent 25 years writing about the public service – the country’s largest workforce – and has also covered parliamentary affairs and politics for the Ottawa Citizen, Postmedia Network Inc. and iPolitics. The winner of a National Newspaper Award, she has also researched and written about public service issues for the federal government and research institutes. Twitter @kathryn_may.