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Public-service strike: Union ‘fed up’ with pace of talks, asks Trudeau for help

More than 100,000 union members walked off the job Wednesday
PSAC workers and supporters picket in front of President of the Treasury Board Mona Fortier’s office in Ottawa on Friday, April 21, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

The head of the union representing thousands of striking public-service workers called on the Prime Minister to get involved in negotiations on Saturday as he decried the slow pace of talks with the federal Treasury Board.

Chris Aylward, national president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, said the union presented a package of proposals on Thursday, but the union had yet to receive a response by Saturday afternoon.

Aylward took aim at Treasury Board President Mona Fortier during the afternoon news conference at which he offered a bargaining update.

“This screams of the incompetence of Mona Fortier … and her team,” Aylward told reporters outside an Ottawa hotel. “The prime minister has done nothing to move these negotiations along. Our members are fed up.”

Aylward said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should take a role in the negotiations and exert his influence to ensure the talks progress more quickly.

More than 100,000 union members walked off the job Wednesday as contract talks broke down after months of negotiations.

READ MORE: Federal public-service strike lands in middle of political battle for working class

Aylward offered encouragement to union members on the picket lines.

“Stay strong,” he said. “We are not going to let them wear us down or wear us out. We will stay here until we get the fair deal that our members deserve.”

The union has said almost a third of all federal public servants are involved in the job action.

Salaries have been top of mind at the table, with the union pushing for annual raises of 4.5 per cent over the next three years due to inflation and rising living costs. The Treasury Board said it has offered the union a nine per cent raise over three years on the recommendation of the third-party Public Interest Commission.

The workers are calling for wage increases and improvements to working conditions, as well as the option for remote work and a number of other issues.

On Thursday, the federal labour board issued a decision saying there was “significant concern” about the recent strike vote because of a low turnout and irregularities. The board found the union failed to properly alert members that it had shortened the voting period by eight days, moving the deadline from April 19 to April 11.

Only about 35 per cent of members of the bargaining unit, or 38,207 people, cast a ballot — and 80 per cent of them were in favour of a strike mandate.

The labour board decided against overturning the vote, finding it was unlikely there would have been a different result even if the union had been more forthcoming with its members.

Union members received notice of a strike vote via email on Jan. 23, and voting began on Feb. 22. But the decision shows the union did not have the correct email addresses for 15,000 members.

The labour board decision arose from a complaint by a public servant who asked the board to overturn the results after he was unable to cast his ballot.

Aylward has said it was regrettable that union members say they didn’t get a fair chance to participate.

“Increasing voter turnout is an issue that all unions, organizations and governments — big or small — grapple with,” Aylward said Friday. “PSAC gave ample opportunity for members to exercise their right to vote, holding nearly 100 strike vote sessions.”

He said the union advertised the vote by email, social media, digital ads and by word of mouth.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada is the largest federal public service union, representing nearly 230,000 workers across the country.

The strike has caused widespread disruptions to a variety of government services and threatens to bring the personal tax filing season to a halt, as about 35,000 workers with the Canada Revenue Agency are currently off the job.

The Canadian Press

READ MORE: PSAC workers picket in Langley in support of nation-wide strike

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Chris Aylward, PSAC National President, speaks to reporters at a news conference on the status of negotiations with Treasury Board, as workers from Canada’s largest federal public-service union are on strike across the country, in Ottawa, on Saturday, April 22, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang