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Border workers' potential strike could lead to long lines at Canadian crossings

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Border workers have voted in favour of a strike mandate which could lead to "significant disruptions" to the flow of goods, services and people through Canadian ports of entry, their union said Friday morning.

Members voted 96 per cent in favour of the mandate, clearing the way for a possible strike over the summer.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) represents border officers at airports, land and marine crossings and commercial points of entry. Members also include inland enforcement, intelligence and trade officers, as well as investigators and other staff.

PSAC says its members have been without an updated collective agreement for two years, and that negotiations are at an impasse.

Strike could start in June

A strike action could come as early as June, coinciding with a busy travel season between the U.S. and Canada.

Mediation sessions are scheduled to begin on June 3.

Most border workers are considered essential workers, meaning basic services will still be provided during a strike.

In 2021, a brief yet impactful work-to-rule campaign left long lines of semi-trucks and passenger vehicles idling at the country's entry points.

Semi-trailers snaked in hours-long waits to pass the gate in Surrey, B.C. Travellers crawled to cross in southern Saskatchewan.

Negotiations lasted through the night and day, and the union reached a deal with the CBSA and government after a gruelling 36 hours. 

What are the workers asking for?

This year, the union says it wants "fair" wages aligned with other law enforcement workers in Canada, and an "equitable retirement regime."

"When you look at the RCMP," or other public enforcement bodies, "after 25 years, they have the option to retire," explained Pierre St-Jacques, spokesperson for Customs and Immigration Union, a subsidiary of PSAC, in a call with CTVNews.ca.

"CBSA does not have that," he said.

"These are difficult jobs. People need to maintain their training. As people get older, sometimes this gets more difficult."

The union is also asking for "flexible" online and remote work options.

The union accused the government for "demanding concessions," saying its "not prepared" to negotiate.

“Unless they want a repeat of 2021, Treasury Board and CBSA must be prepared to come to the table,” said PSAC National President Chris Aylward in a news release.

"The window to avert a strike is closing quickly,” he added.

What does the government say?

Just hours after the union announced it had achieved the strike mandate, the federal government released its response saying it's ready to return to the bargaining table "at any time."

It called a possible strike "unnecessary," vowing it "will do everything possible to reach a responsible and competitive agreement."

The government also said it has already renewed agreements with 80 per cent of the public service, and "if the union is ready to negotiate in good faith, we can do the same." 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also responded to the union's mandate during a Friday news conference.

"We recognize the hard work that they do every day, keeping Canada safe at our borders," he said, referring to CBSA workers.

"We also know that the best labour agreements happen at the bargaining table, and that's exactly where the ministers are focused." 

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