PSAC 'takes over' interprovincial bridge, escalates strike antics

Approximately 120,000 Treasury Board workers and 35,000 CRA staff called a strike on April 19 after negotiations with the federal government broke down.

PSAC 'takes over' interprovincial bridge, escalates strike antics
Dacey Media/Chris Dacey
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Federal servants, annoyed by ongoing collective bargaining with the Treasury Board, have moved to occupy an interprovincial bridge Friday to "disrupt the economy."

Hundreds of disgruntled union members chanted they "are keeping this march safe" but "will be heard [by the federal government]."

"We deserve fair wages. We deserve a fair contract," they said.

"Who's got the power? We got the power," they added as they occupied the Portage Bridge between Gatineau, Québec and Ottawa, Ontario.

"We will shut it down," they said, referring to the interprovincial bridge.

A picket captain faced pushback from a visibly distraught resident angered by the ongoing antics of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC).

"We, the people, pay your salary," she said. "Are you working right now?" he replied.

Independent journalist Chris Dacey asked local law enforcement how long they would allow the blockade to continue. He received no response.

PSAC and the Treasury Board failed to strike a bargain before the strike started on April 19, as reported by Blacklock's Reporter. The union ultimately rejected the Board's offer of a more tenable three-year raise compounded at 9.25%, triggering one of Canada's largest public service strikes in history.

Approximately 120,000 Treasury Board workers and 35,000 CRA staff called a strike after negotiations with the Treasury Board broke down.

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) said their employees wanted a 22.5% pay raise over three years. In contrast, Treasury Board workers are asking for a 13.5% wage hike over the same period.

On April 19, Government House leader Mark Holland told reporters he wants both sides to strike a "fair" deal for the public service and taxpayers.

Treasury Board President Mona Fortier said, "Many PSAC demands are completely unworkable" and "We cannot sign a blank cheque." 

According to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF), the wage and non-wage benefits demanded by PSAC would cost taxpayers $9.3 billion over three years. 

The non-wage benefits include calls for a "wage premium" for work after 4 p.m., an education fund for laid-off members of up to $17,000, and 75 hours of annual paid leave, among other benefits.

"PSAC's demands come with a huge price tag for Canadian taxpayers," said Franco Terrazzano, Federal Director of the CTF. "The government must remember that many Canadians are struggling, so any deal must be affordable for taxpayers."

The Parliamentary Budget Officer said compensation for each full-time federal employee is $125,300 on average for pay, pension and other benefits. Some 312,825 federal employees received at least one pay raise during the pandemic and $559 million in bonuses since 2020.

"Canadians struggling to afford groceries and gas don't have billions more to pay for unreasonable demands," said Terrazzano.

On April 27, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded to questions on PSAC members blocking critical infrastructure. 

"Do you intend to do anything to break this impasse?" asked the reporter. Trudeau responded: "I have been directly and intimately involved in the negotiations. I have deep faith in collective bargaining as a process."

On April 20, Trudeau warned picketers that "Canadians [would] not…be very patient if this continues."

According to Blacklock's Reporter, Parliament in 1991 introduced back-to-work legislation to end a national Service Alliance strike after 13 days. 

Union president Chris Aylward repeatedly claimed an "overwhelming majority" favoured a strike, adding that higher voter turnout is an issue that "all unions, organizations and governments grapple with."

The union held strike votes between February 22 and April 11. During that time, about 65% of members did not vote. Of the 120,000 Treasury Board workers represented by the union, just 42,421 exercised their right to call for a strike.

Since the strike began, protesters have made their presence felt and heard in the region, circling different buildings, chanting through megaphones, and blasting music.

They marched outside Parliament Hill, picketing messages such as "Fortier around and find out!", "I'd throw eggs, but I can't afford them," and "2% is for milk," occasionally breaking into a "What do we want?" chant.

"People hate us," read one picket.

However, union members have also escalated their antics, disrupting traffic and limiting access to office buildings in downtown Ottawa.

Strikers limited entry to just one person every five minutes outside the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) building and the Treasury Board headquarters. Another group blocked cars on the Portage Bridge.

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