Ottawa asks labour board to bar union strike votes for 35,000 Canada Revenue Agency workers

By Cristin Schmitz

Law360 Canada (January 13, 2023, 4:32 PM EST) -- Following a call this week for national strike votes by the union for 35,000 Canada Revenue Agency workers, the CRA has filed unfair labour practices complaints against the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) with the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board.

The CRA’s complaint, announced Jan. 13, was filed alongside a similar, but separate, complaint by the Treasury Board that the 230,000-member PSAC — one of Canada’s largest unions — breached its duty to bargain in good faith to reach new collective agreements on behalf of tens of thousands of workers within the federal program and administrative services (PA), technical services (TC), education and library science (EB), and operational services (SV) groups.

PSAC says on its website it represents more than 165,000 federal public service workers who are currently at an impasse in negotiations with the federal government, and who are “moving towards job action to secure a contract that protects workers from the rising cost of living, offers better work-life balance and ends the contracting out of public service jobs.”

In both the CRA and Treasury Board complaints, the federal government says it is asking the federal public sector labour board “to direct the PSAC to return to the bargaining table and engage in meaningful, good faith negotiations.”

In complaining of unfair labour practices by PSAC’s Union of Taxation Employees (PSAC-UTE), the CRA asks the labour board to recognize that the PSAC-UTE did not bargain in good faith and did not make every reasonable effort to enter into a collective agreement.

The CRA is also asking the board to direct the parties to return to the bargaining table before allowing the PSAC-UTE to declare or authorize a strike.

On Jan. 10, PSAC announced that it will launch nationwide strike votes from Jan. 31 to April 7 for more than 35,000 CRA workers, who have been without a contract for more than a year, after talks broke down over wages and remote work — resulting in the union declaring an impasse in September 2022.

The union informed its members Dec. 20 that its bargaining team “had no choice but to break off talks” on the first day of mediation with the CRA “over their refusal to budge on our remote work proposal, a key issue for members at the table this round.”

“We’ve been clear negotiating wages that keep up with inflation and a sensible remote work policy are critical to reach a deal, but the agency has refused to respond to our wage offer and still has major concessions on the table,” PSAC national president Chris Aylward said in a Jan. 10 statement. “Workers can’t wait any longer.”

PSAC-UTE said while strike votes are underway, the CRA and the union will proceed to Public Interest Commission (PIC) hearings Jan. 27 and Feb. 20 with the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board. The commission’s non-binding recommendations for reaching a collective agreement are expected in the spring, PSAC said.

The union said it will be in a legal strike position, if members vote in favour of a strike mandate, after the commission issues its report.

For its part, the CRA said when PSAC-UTE left the bargaining table during the sixth negotiation session and declared an impasse last September, the union “still had over 200 outstanding bargaining demands, many of which involve significant costs to the CRA and taxpayers.”

The labour board “recommended both the establishment of a Public Interest Commission and mediation leading up to the PIC, to help the parties resolve many of the 200 proposals submitted by the PSAC-UTE that remain in dispute,” the CRA said.

The union withdrew on the first day of the agreed-on mediation which would have helped the parties reach an agreement, the CRA said. “In addition, the PSAC-UTE has clearly stated its intention to move to a strike position as soon as possible, in advance of the PIC conclusion and in a manner that would impact the CRA’s tax filing season, without first engaging in good faith bargaining,” the CRA said.

The CRA said it is “committed to meeting and pursuing meaningful negotiations with the PSAC-UTE with a view to conclude a new collective agreement that is both fair for employees and reasonable for Canadians,” noting its disappointment that the union “has chosen these actions, against every effort made by the CRA to try to come to an agreement.”

With respect to its separate complaint against PSAC, the Treasury Board said Jan. 10 the government “has been clear in its commitment to achieving a positive outcome at the bargaining table” for the employees within PA, TC, EB and SV groups.

“The PSAC, on the other hand, has demonstrated unwillingness to reach agreements during this round of negotiations,” the Treasury Board said. “From the start of negotiations in June 2021, the PSAC has flooded the bargaining tables with costly proposals — over 500 across its five bargaining units. At the same time, they have refused to prioritize their requests, refused to move on their initial proposals, and did not respond to the employer’s comprehensive offers.”

The government said its “priority is to continue negotiating at the bargaining table towards a positive outcome. When that wasn’t an option, the government supported the establishment of Public Interest Commissions and the appointment of a mediator as a constructive step to advance negotiations. Throughout the PIC hearings, the PSAC again failed to make reasonable efforts to reach agreements. And before any of the Commission’s reports have been rendered, PSAC announced that they will hold strike votes regardless of the PIC recommendations. It is clear that the PSAC is seeking to precipitate a strike without making every reasonable effort to enter into a collective agreement.”

In a Dec. 22 statement from PSAC to its members in the operational services group (more than 10,000 workers including ships crews, firefighters and general labourers and trades), after the PIC hearings wrapped up and mediation failed, the union said “our bargaining team will determine next steps once the PIC report is received. If an agreement cannot be reached during the PIC process, PSAC members should be prepared to continue escalating our actions to reach a fair contract, including taking strike action if necessary.”

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