One of Canada’s largest unions finds itself in the uncomfortable position of rejecting demands made by a small group of its own casual workers who want to unionize.
The standoff pits the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), which represents 172,000 employees, against 10 casual employees hired to organize and mobilize workers on its behalf.
The 10 workers — from different parts of Canada — voted down a contract offer Friday negotiated by another union, the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP), over concerns about job security and other issues.
Josephine Petcher, a national CEP representative, said that PSAC had negotiated in good faith and offered the workers voluntary recognition, meaning they could join an existing bargaining unit with CEP.
Petcher said the union also offered a memorandum of understanding, stating terms and conditions of employment that were similar to what PSAC had offered a similar group of Quebec-based casual workers, who recently negotiated a first contract.
However, it appears, those terms offered little job security: under the deal, the casual employees would not be made permanent, though they would have collective bargaining rights.
Petcher said some workers would see a pay increase under the new deal -- a win for some -- but other workers would lose out with a lack of job protection.
Petcher refused to get into the specifics of PSAC’s offer, but said her union thought the terms were fair and recommended the organizers accept the offer.
She said there were a number of ‘helpful’ items on offer, including requirements for notice, the protection of vacation and sick days, language about discrimination, harassment and a grievance procedure for unfair termination.
“But the organizers rejected it, which is their right, their democratic right,” Petcher said.
While it is “not typical” for casual workers to be unionized, the union tried to make the process “seamless” for the ten workers, said Catherine Gilbert, PSAC’s acting director for planning and organizational development.
We are a union, we believe in unions, and we believe in a unionized workforce, that is what we are all about,” Gilbert said. “They would get some actual protection that they currently do not have.”
Gilbert said the casuals must remain casual because the union doesn’t need any more permanent employees.
“We need them only on a temporary basis for a certain purpose and within a certain time frame ... The work that they are called upon to perform is not ongoing work,” she said.
“We don’t always have active campaigns.”
About 10-15 per cent of PSAC’s approximately 420 employees are not unionized because they are managers, contract or casual employees.
The National Citizens Coalition’s Stephen Taylor chuckled when he heard about the casual workers’ struggle.
“It is ironic and it looks like PSAC is facing the same types of pressure that private companies can face when their workforces want to unionize,” Taylor said.
Other unions, such as the Canadian Labour Congress, declined to comment.
Gilbert said there’s nothing unusual about a union employing casual, non-unionized staff. In the federal public service, she added, students and casual workers can’t legally be unionized.
“We have a responsibility to administer the resources in the best interest of the organization,” Gilbert said.”
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