I belong to a public sector Union. It isn’t a huge Union, not the scale of PSAC, PIPSC, CUPE and the like. There are around 12,000 members, I think; the majority of whom work in one department. I, and for a great many of my colleagues, think that our Union should deliver two basic services. These are:
- to represent the members in the collective bargaining process
- to assist members when there is an issue or a conflict with the employer
That’s it in our particular case. If the membership of another union consents to the use of dues for other purposes, then that’s their business.
Any other activities like supporting social or activist causes or political parties are not what my dues are to be directed toward. And our little Union has filled those basic roles, and only those roles, quite well over the 18 years I’ve been in the PS. And our Local (for non-Union types, it’s kind of like a local chapter) leadership has by and large supported those limited roles, and has done a damn fine job in the process AND dues have been kept reasonable.
I also don’t believe in the point of a PS union withholding their services – especially in the form of full-on and long term strikes – in case of bargaining or other impasses. Strike actions of any kind in the PS lead nowhere. Any government can simply legislate the workers back to work. There is zero public sympathy for such actions. There are public sector exceptions as teachers and health workers do traditionally have the support of a segment of the population. But at the federal level, face it, no one gives a crap whether or not bureaucrats are on picket lines.
So, when all of the members received this email in January, I and others became more than a little concerned:
Dear CAPE member,
Due to the 2013 changes to the Public Service Labour Relations Act which governs federal public service labour relations (Bill C-4), CAPE can no longer use third party arbitration to resolve an impasse at the bargaining table without the agreement of Treasury Board. Accordingly, the current round of negotiations with the employer over the fate of important matters, including sick leave, performance management, telework,pay and job security may force CAPE to conduct a strike vote for the EC bargaining unit or TR bargaining unit.
If a strike vote occurs, and a majority of members of CAPE vote ‘Yes’, that does not automatically mean there will be a strike. A positive strike vote is used by union negotiators to impress upon the employer that the union’s position at the bargaining table is supported by the membership. In addition, ‘strikes’ can take many forms (e.g., work-to-rule campaigns, single-day demonstration strikes, rotating strikes, all-out strikes).
Anticipating the possibility of a strike vote, CAPE would like to learn more about your views on this subject in order to assist in our planning. Please take a few minutes to answer the following questions.
Participation in this survey is voluntary, your anonymity will be respected and all responses will be kept strictly confidential. Questions are asked for statistical purposes only and will not be used to identify respondents.
Let’s put aside the fact that this “survey” was designed in such a poor way that any data obtained through the instrument would be misleading and, quite frankly, useless. But that’s another discussion…
Back to the email… I am very confident that the vast majority of my colleagues were also somewhat shocked to see the word “strike”. This has never been remotely considered in my years in the PS. Our members are intelligent and can do the math. There is not way that the salary lost through a strike will ever be regained through any cost-of-living or scale increases.
So why the sudden militancy in the leadership of the union?
#1. Rightly or wrongly, the culture of our little association has been one of disinterest in Union activites. as long as dues increases were kept to a minimum, very few members paid attention to union elections or communications. Well, that apathy bit us on the butt this time when a very militant, pro merge-with-PSAC/PIPSC slate was elected last year – with about a 10% voter turnout (I think). The new militant president was elected with a plurality of about… 20 votes.
Now democracy is democracy, sure. And the membership got its cumuppance by ignoring the elections. But does this leadership have a mandate to radically change the course of the union – and its members – with such a weak mandate? My opinion is that they do not.
Reason for militancy #2- the CPC Government has proposed a very new and trimmed back sick day system for the PS. Many of us believe that reform was long overdue. We may not agree with the proposed new rules, but again, the Government has a majority in Parliament and can simply cram through the legislation and bang! The new rules are in place.
So, why does CAPE get all huffy and puffy now and not wait until the election in the Fall when a new party may be elected to power and may be amore amenable to any input the labour unions may have on sick days reform? This is something that has a lot of us scratching our heads. It’s not like we lose anything by waiting.
Why do I write this? On one level it’s cathartic (as many of my posts are) but I’m also hoping that more than a few members of our Union see it and wake up to the fact that unless they start paying attention, they’ll be on a strike line and will be explaining to their bank why they have to miss a mortgage payment or two… and the negative image of our Public Service – which has been promoted by the current Government – will be further cemented in the minds of Canadians. Because, you see, as much as the union executive says that in the absence of arbitration (which the Government has taken away as an opition at the bargaining table), non-binding conciliation and a subsequent strike are NOT what they want – it very much IS exactly what they see as the end game.