Federal scientists training in case of strike
Federal scientists, doctors, geologists and other professionals who have never been on a picket line are going on “mobilization” and strike training so they’ll be ready if contract negotiations with the Conservative government hit an impasse.
The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) is holding a two-day conference and training sessions next week with about 150 local leaders on how to mobilize employees who, historically, have been cool to strikes and other militant labour tactics.
The union has also created a central mobilization unit at PIPSC headquarters. It consulted with strategists in the U.S. and Canadian labour movement with experience in mounting strikes, communications, and building support among union members and the public. Experts have been brought in from the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) and other provincial public service unions.
It’s a major cultural shift for PIPSC, whose 55,000 professionals have largely preferred to settle disputes at the bargaining table with arbitration rather than strike.
Computer specialists and auditors with PIPSC are the only major groups to have staged strikes and the last one was nearly 25 years ago.
The Conservatives, however, changed that with new labour legislation, buried in omnibus budget Bill C-4.
It gave the government, not the union, the right to pick strike or arbitration to resolve impasses.
The only bargaining units that can insist on arbitration are those in which more than 80 per cent of employees have been designated as essential and prohibited from striking. The government also blunted the impact of strikes by giving itself the “exclusive” right to decide which workers are essential.
The image of workers marshalling for a strike is at odds with the moral high ground unions recently tried to stake out at the bargaining table. They have made contract demands for integrity, transparency, wellness and mental health initiatives.
But PIPSC president Debi Daviau said the union has no choice but to be prepared.
“No matter how much we try to stick to the high road, we know who we are dealing with on the other side of the table,” Daviau said.
“The vast majority of our members have never been on strike and it’s the furthest thing from their minds, but we’re being pushed into a corner and it would be irresponsible for us not to prepare for that eventuality.”
Many argue the government’s changes to the federal labour legislation will have the effect of limiting the right to strike for strong, militant unions while forcing smaller or weaker unions that, rarely, if ever, considered strikes to now face that prospect.
PIPSC argues that this round of bargaining is more than a battle over public servants’ sick leave benefits.
Rather, the union says it is bargaining to protect the services public servants provide Canadians and is teaming up with advocacy groups to help spread that message.
Federal scientists want the right to talk freely about their work and have found allies with groups such as Scientists for the Right to Know and Evidence for Democracy.