Civilian employees working on military bases in Ontario and Quebec are on the picket lines this week after negotiations with their employer broke down.
Workers who deliver programs through the Canadian Forces Morale and Welfare Services (CFMWS) are impacted by the strike, with nearly to 500 workers in total, and close to 80 employees walking off the job here in Kingston.
In a statement, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), who, along with the Union of National Defence Employees (UNDE), represent these workers, said the employer Non-public Funds (NPF) didn’t address any key issues at the table. PSAC National President Chris Aylward said members are struggling to survive with their current wages.
“Our members provided their bargaining teams with the mandate to take job action to get the collective agreement they deserve, and that’s exactly what we will do,” said Aylward.
“NPF workers play a pivotal role supporting Canadian military members and their families, but many of them barely make minimum wage, and are working two jobs just to make ends meet.”
In Kingston, striking workers have been picketing at Fort Henry Drive and outside the main entrance of Royal Military College.
Robin Delve, a civilian employee at RMC in Kingston and president of Local 681 with the Union of National Defence Employees, said the differing pay for employees at different bases is an issue that the unions want to see resolved so collective bargaining can fall under one umbrella.
“We want a national pay grid. There’s 10 bases across Canada that are with the Union and National Defence employees, we have 10 different pay grids, 10 different contracts, 10 different collective agreements,” Delve said.
“It’s drastic. My job is $10 an hour more in Ottawa and Edmonton. That’s life-changing and it’s got to stop. Our managers, our Category 2 employees, are paid on the national pay grid, but we’re paid regionally.”
She said their employer argues that the cost of living impacts their pay, but that doesn’t add up considering managers who make higher wages are paid on a national pay grid.
After a recommendation from a public interest commission for a national pay grid and a raise of 13.75 per cent over three years, Delve said they’ve essentially been given a “take it or leave it” offer of 12 per cent over those three years. She said that is a pay raise that just barely matches inflation — it causes unneeded stress and forces employees to make difficult decisions.
“Some of my employees are trying to decide what doesn’t get paid this month,” Delve said.
“One of my picket captains [has] three jobs, three jobs with the organization and still struggles… I have members that are using food banks. We are federal government employees. As much as they like to deny it, we are federal government employees and we need to be paid.”
Delve said the union has been working for between seven and 10 years to get a national pay grid and one collective agreement, and frustration has been mounting over that time.
She said if called back to the bargaining table, she and her VP are ready to hit the road immediately and hit the table in Ottawa, but employees are ready to wait this out and in no rush to walk away without a fair deal.
“I have members who are making more money today walking a picket line than what they are when they get paid,” Delve said.
“We’re there for the long haul. So whenever they’re willing to go back, we are willing to go back. We were going to stay there last weekend until the bitter end.”
She added that in the two days on the picket lines, there’s been no communication from the employer to her knowledge.
CFMWS CEO Ian Poulter said they are eager to negotiate and come to an agreement with striking employees.
“We remain open to further negotiations to reach an agreement as required and we remain committed to a swift and positive outcome for all parties involved,” Poulter said.
“We are steadfast in our commitment to our Canadian Armed Forces communities and hope to mitigate any disruptions to services as much as possible.”
Delve said working the picket lines is unfamiliar territory for members, as in 50 years as an organization this is the first time they have ever been on strike, and while members would be happy to be back to work, they’re resolute in their pursuit of a better agreement.
Owen Fullerton is a Kingston-based reporter with the Local Journalism Initiative (LJI). The LJI is funded by the Government of Canada.