Breaking down the threat of CBSA job action

The key demands of CBSA include higher wages, enhanced retirement plans and more opportunities to work remotely. Photo Credit: Shutterstock. 

Summer has arrived for border communities across Canada and the United States. Businesses in municipalities such as Niagara Falls and Fort Erie have been looking forward to another opportunity to recover from the pandemic by having a normal tourist season. However, 2024 headlines are increasingly being dominated by the threat of labour unrest. For regional and national economies already under immense stress, the timing could not be worse. 

Industry and government leaders have been already hard at work trying to avert a railway worker strike, in recognition of the severe impact that a stoppage would have on continental supply chains. At the same time, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), which represents more than 9,000 Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) employees, is threatening to commence job action if the framework for a new collective bargaining agreement is not affirmed by Wednesday, June 12th. 

Treasury Board of Canada, responding to the growing speculation about what could come next, is arguing that 90 per cent of the border officers serving on the front line are considered essential workers. Therefore, it is the position of the board that these employees will be required to continue providing their labour notwithstanding any variation of work-to-rule and/or a strike, noting in a media release earlier this week that “unlawful job action will not be tolerated.” 

Talks between the government and the union have been taking place via mediation. It is the hope of both sides that strike can be averted as it would not benefit either side from a public relations perspective. If job action were to commence, there is serious concern that border traffic could be brought to a near complete halt. Not only would individuals be inconvenienced and delayed, but transport trucks that bring goods and services that citizens rely on could be held back for significant periods of time. When CBSA last picketed in 2021, it was disastrous for border traffic. 

The key demands of CBSA include higher wages, enhanced retirement plans and more opportunities to work remotely. The federal government says that it is generally open to compromising with the union, but as of yet it has not detailed publicly exactly what it is willing to concede. 

All of this information is contributing to a discernible sentiment of instability among local residents, business owners, as well as those who have family living on both sides of the border. The negotiations are unpredictable and it is simply too difficult to know if a new contract will be agreed to before Wednesday afternoon. The only thing that Canadians and Americans can take comfort in is that once a strike begins, the crippling nature of the disruption will almost certainly result in a deal getting done sooner rather than later. 

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