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Home News ‘We’re here for the long haul’: 400 Prince Albert area PSAC members hit the picket line as part of national strike

‘We’re here for the long haul’: 400 Prince Albert area PSAC members hit the picket line as part of national strike

‘We’re here for the long haul’: 400 Prince Albert area PSAC members hit the picket line as part of national strike
Union member Shaina Ledoux waves a PSAC flag while walking the picket line along Marquis Rd. Thursday morning. Ledoux is one of 400 local PSAC workers who joined a nation-wide strike Wednesday morning. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

Dawn Montgrant said she’s freezing cold, but that won’t stop her from walking the picket line.

On Thursday, Montgrant was one of 400 Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) union members from the Prince Albert area who went on strike after the PSAC failed to reach a bargaining agreement with the federal government.

Although snow swirled around Montgrant and other union members picketing along Marquis Rd. Thursday morning, she’s committed to the strike until the government puts forward a better offer.

“Our members are still holding in,” said Montgrant, a governance officer with Indigenous Services Canada who also serves as president of Local 40195. “We know what we’re doing—trying to get a better collective agreement (and) better wages—so we’re here for the long haul, however long it takes.”

There are 450 PSAC members in the Prince Albert, although 50 are essential services employees who are still on the job. They are among 155,000 workers who started a nation-wide strike on Wednesday. Union members set up picket lines at more than 250 locations across Canada, putting nearly one-third of Canada’s entire federal public service workers on strike.

The list of disrupted services includes employment insurance, passport applications, and slowdowns at the border. Canadians can also expect delays in filing their taxes.

Negotiations with the federal government began in June 2021, but became deadlocked in May 2022. Montgrant said that’s not enough to keep up with the rising cost of living. She also frustrated that so little progress has been made.

“It’s been two years,” she said. “We could have got a lot done in two years. It didn’t have to come to this.”

Most bargaining units are asking for a 4.5 per cent pay increase every year for the next three years. That would amount to a total pay increase of 13.5 per cent pay. The government countered with a nine per cent pay increase.

However, Montgrant said working conditions are also a concern. She said many union members were told to work from home during the heaviest days of the COVID-19 outbreak. Now that they’re back on the job, they want some assurances they can still work from home if they want.

Vehicles can be seen lined up down 15th Street West on April 20, 2023, as local members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada walk the picket line at the Sask. Penitentiary on the second day of the nation’s biggest public service strike. — Bailey Sutherland/Local Journalism Initiative Reporter/Daily Herald

“You think of all the buildings that are there, that’s costing the government money to have that (open) and then people are willing to use their homes as an office location,” she said. “We just want to have the right to be able to choose now that we’ve demonstrated what we can do from home, that if it works for us, keep doing that.”

The PSAC has four bargaining units representing workers who oversee. Members have been without a bargaining agreement since June 2021.

Striking workers also set up a picket line outside the Saskatchewan Penitentiary on Thursday. Around 11 a.m., more than 30 vehicles with their hazards on were lined up down 15th Street West, all the way to the corner of 15th Avenue West. Passing vehicles honked in support of local members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, which include employees at the Sask. Penitentiary, that could be seen with signs protesting for fair wages.

Prior to the strike, Treasury Board president Mona Fortier wrote on social media that negotiations with the PSAC would continue over the April 15-16 weekend. She wrote again on Thursday that the government as back at the bargaining table and ready to get a deal done.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland defended the government’s offer at a press conference on Thursday, calling it an offer that was fair to the country’s public servants, and to “the hard-working people of Canada who finance our offer.”

Freeland said she remained hopeful they’d reach a resolution soon.

PSAC national president Chris Aylward opened the strike on Wednesday by calling on union members to show the government just how important it was to get a deal done soon.

“Now, more than ever, workers need fair wages, good working conditions, and inclusive workplaces,” Aylward said in a press release. “It’s clear the only way we’ll achieve that is by taking strike action to show the government that workers can’t wait.”

–with files from Bailey Sutherland/Local Journalism Reporter/Daily Herald