To call this past year challenging for the PSAC would be an understatement that our members would shake their heads at. I can safely say that we have never faced anything like the year through which we have nearly passed.
Not since our founding in 1966 has our union been confronted by a government so eager to roll back what we have accomplished over those many years, whether it’s sick leave, health and safety protections, the right to conduct fair collective bargaining, to carry on union business without a government-imposed burden of paperwork and reporting requirements, even the basic right to unionize in the first place.
Meanwhile, massive and continuing job cuts have become the norm, threatening public services across the country. As we know, our veterans in particular have been targeted by the Harper government, but they are far from alone—for example, ask any EI claimant who has had to wait months for benefits or is one of the increasing number of those disqualified altogether. Overall, the effects have been devastating: at this link is a run-down of services that have already been negatively affected by the government’s slashing and burning.
But—and here’s what we really need to emphasize—we have taken none of this lying down, and we even scored, or helped to score, some victories along the way. The big one for labour was wiping out Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak in the recent Ontario elections. Many of our own members in Ontario worked hard to ensure that this anti-union “right to work” (for less) politician would not be the next premier of the province. But it wasn’t rhetoric that defeated him. It took countless hours of hard work and solid on-the-ground organizing.
To be frank, I think of this as a dry run for the 2015 federal election in the Fall. The Hudak agenda and the Harper agenda don’t differ much: slashing public services, breaking unions, rewarding their corporate friends on the backs of working people.
Even defending the basic rights of individual members in this political climate can be a major struggle—but we don’t back down. Fiona Johnstone, a member in the Canadian Border Security Agency (CBSA), just wanted reasonable accommodation to schedule her shift because she had a new baby. CBSA said no. The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal and the courts said otherwise. It took ten years (you read right) to fix this, but we didn’t let go. This was not only a victory for Sister Johnstone, but for countless others who need to balance work and family life.
Then there was Lorraine Martin, whose story I already told here. It took four years to put this right, the government spending goodness knows how many tax dollars resisting a routine request for clearly justified leave that had been denied without rhyme or reason. Imagine if there were no union in the workplace!
But there was. Strong members we have, and that makes a strong union. Multiply their determination across our ranks, and just think what we could achieve.
We’re going to need that determination, and then some, if we want things to change. Over the past year, we’ve continued to make links with the wider progressive movement in this country, hosting workshops at the Peoples’ Social Forum this past August and participating in the Childcare 2020 Conference last month. As far as collective bargaining goes, it’s been interesting so far, but we aren’t alone: all federal public service unions have agreed to hold the line on the key issue of sick leave.
Our Components and our Regional Councils have held their Conventions, and we’re now gearing up for the PSAC Triennial Convention in the Spring. We have two major things on our minds: a fair collective agreement—and a federal regime change in October.
Happy New Year? Well, in comparison to the one we’re leaving, it just might be. It’s up to us, though, and to millions like us.
Come on, everyone. We’ve got work to do.