Survey of CAPE members - “I can’t afford to strike”

By Richard Balance*

Here we are, in the midst of negotiations with an employer that is hell-bent on saving money on the backs of workers. The talks are moving slowly – and many members are curious about possible job action. We’ve all heard it: members who declare, “I can’t afford to go on strike.”

Currently, we’re a long way from strike action. Negotiations continue, albeit slowly. All parties are at the table. Before we are in a position to strike, there are several things that have to happen.

First of all, a legal strike cannot take place without an essential services agreement, which outlines all positions that are designated essential. Bill C-4 gives the government control over essential services (although this is likely unconstitutional) and Bill C-31 has revoked all existing essential service agreements. The government must revisit and identify amendments to essential service agreements before we will be anywhere near a strike position.

Second, a legal strike can only take place once members of the bargaining unit have voted to initiate strike action. A strike vote can only happen if the PSAC national president authorizes the vote. Based on the results of the vote, the PSAC national president then has the authority to call for strike action. Members only walk the picket line if they have democratically voted to go on strike, and the PSAC national president calls for a walk-out.

We’re far from that point for the time being. There won’t be a vote held unless negotiations reach an impasse.

Is it true that our members cannot afford to strike? During job action, our members will not be paid by the employer. We all have obligations such as mortgages, car payments, tuition fees for our children’s education, monthly bills (and more bills…, heat, hydro, internet, telephone, etc.). Many members will struggle with keeping up with payments if they lose a week or two of pay. Any longer, and most members will have challenges.

I’d suggest that, in fact, with the current negotiations, we can’t afford to not strike. We stand to lose a whole lot more than a couple of weeks of pay.

One of the “features” of the “short-term disability” (STD) plan that our employer wants to impose on public servants is a seven-day unpaid waiting period before anyone qualifies for benefits. Think about it…. If you are ill and you have used up your six days of sick leave, any further period of illness is unpaid for up to five working days, before you qualify for “STD”.

And often the devil is in the details. What if you fall ill again at a later date? Will you automatically qualify for “STD” or will you have another waiting period? Having had some experience with the insurance industry, I suspect the latter.

Just when you need a paycheque, you may not get one. To make matters worse, you’ll have to deal with a for-profit organization like Sun Life trying to pay you the least benefit possible.

Can I afford to strike? Not really. However, given what our employer is offering, we stand to lose even more over time. We can’t afford not to strike.

No one wants to get stuck with an STD, especially from this employer.

*Richard Ballance is a member of the national executive of the Union of National Employees – a union within the Public Service Alliance of Canada. You can read Richard’s article on the UNE website.