Source: PSAC/Facebook

After almost two weeks on strike, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) leadership has announced that a tentative agreement has been reached with the federal government. Unfortunately, no matter how you twist the numbers, they show an agreement with wages well below inflation, almost the same as the government offered the day before the strike started. On top of this, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) workers are still on strike, left to their own devices. PSAC members must vote against this deal!

Below inflation

In a statement on the deal, PSAC President Chris Aylward says, “During a period of record-high inflation and soaring corporate profits, workers were told to accept less—but our members came together and fought for better.” What’s the reality?

In the union’s press release, it is presented as a 12.6 per cent wage increase over four years, which seems like a small gain over the government’s nine per cent offer over three years. But in reality, 12.6 per cent is the cumulative increase. Calculated this way, the government offer was about 9.27 per cent over three years.

If we compare the offers as they are presented to the public in normal times, it is 12 per cent over four years. So the government has not moved an inch from its offer of the day before the strike of nine percent over three years.

In addition to this, the government offers a lump sum of $2,500. Lump sums are a classic method which allow governments to present a wage offer as bigger than it really is. The union leadership is playing along: the PSAC press release states the percentage increase that this amount represents for one year’s salary, which makes it look like a huge bonus. But this is misleading. It is not a raise, but only a one-time payment. And it can’t be much more than what the workers lost in wages during the almost two weeks of the strike.

The union leadership is evidently trying to embellish the offer. But no matter how it is presented, this wage deal is well below inflation. One union member shared a chart on Facebook showing that wage erosion will amount to at least 5.75 per cent:

On social media, many workers are expressing their frustration. One worker said: “One of the main reasons we went out was the wage offer !!! 9% on 3 years and you accept 3,15% on 4 years !!! That deal is a shame!”

Remote work was the other major issue where workers sought to make gains. Workers save thousands of dollars in transportation, childcare and other expenses by being able to work from home.

Here too, what is known about the agreement is disappointing. One worker explained that the remote work option remains in the hands of management, which answers to the Treasury Board administration on these issues. Requests will have to be handled on a case-by-case basis, but theoretically, there is nothing to stop overzealous managers from denying them.

Treasury Board President Mona Fortier calls the agreements with the union “fair, competitive and reasonable”. When the same person who accused unions of being unreasonable only a few days ago changes her tune like that, it’s a bad sign.

Many workers will rightly ask, all of that effort for this? A barely modified government offer from what was recently described as “unacceptable to us” is now being touted as a victory. Many workers are realizing this. One worker said:

“This is incredibly disappointing. If I’m reading this right we are taking around a 2 percent pay cut every year compared to inflation and WFH [working from home] is not in the collective agreement. Why is this being presented like it is a win for us? The 12.6 percent is over 4 years, not 3, making the way this feel misleading at best. [sic]

So-so-so, solidarity?

If there is one thing that seems to be particularly disappointing to workers, it is the fact that those of the Union of Taxation Employees (UTE, the CRA employees) are not included in the tentative agreement. Messages to that effect are pouring in on social media, first from CRA workers themselves:

“Hi, I’m a CRA worker. Why don’t PSAC members stand in solidarity with us? The mandate to negotiate was only given by Treasury Board last Thursday for UTE members. We could have waited to go on strike but we went on strike from day one to show solidarity with PSAC members. But now you are leaving us all alone. Where is the solidarity?”

“Where is the so-so-so SOLIDARITY??? We were there with the other 120,000… The 120,000 should stay in the street with us until we sign.

“Thanks for leaving UTE out to dry. . Would have been nice to have the support of other PSAC groups until we ALL had an agreement since we ALL went on strike at the same time. What a missed opportunity.”

Workers covered by the tentative agreement are also showing correct class instincts in opposing this separate agreement:

“Makes no sense that we get to go back to work and leave CRA to stand alone. What about solidarity!?”

“So we’ve left our UTE brothers and sisters in the dust? Not okay PSAC.

“Solidarity until a deal is reached, then each department for their own, 35000 CRA employees still not working while 120k return to work. The solidarity chant was for nothing.”

These workers are right. Now CRA workers, who had much better wage demands—setting an example which all PSAC workers would have been entitled to match—will be under pressure to accept the same disappointing deal as the rest of the PSAC.

But all is not lost.

Vote ‘no’! For workers’ democracy!

The 120,000 employees covered by the tentative agreement are back to work, and they will now have to vote on it online.

We are calling for a NO vote to this agreement, as it only continues to impoverish federal workers. This also sets a bad precedent. With inflation still hovering around five per cent in Canada, the bosses and provincial governments will be able to point to this agreement and call anyone who wants more than three per cent a year “unreasonable”, “selfish”, and so on.

Details of the voting period were not disclosed, but its online character does not bode well. An atomized online vote does not allow workers to democratically discuss and debate the agreement. The only opinion being represented in the public, and within the union, is that of the union leadership, which “unanimously” recommends the agreement.

PSAC workers must demand that face-to-face general assemblies be held to discuss the agreement. All opinions should be freely expressed. This is the only way for rank-and-file union members to debate the merits of the agreement and ask the leaders to explain why they are recommending this deal.

It is also of vital importance that these meetings be held in person. An unfortunate legacy of COVID is that many unions and political organizations continue to hold meetings online. These online meetings further atomize and isolate members of the union. As well, online meetings are more easily managed so that only the leadership can speak—as we saw in the recent Ontario education workers’ strike. This goes against all the traditions of workers’ democracy.

In-person general assemblies remain to this day the best method for workers to express themselves, argue, and convince each other of a given course of action. If the leadership thinks their deal is a good one, then they should have no problem defending it and arguing it with the union members who have questions or disagree. 

It has been reported that 96 per cent of workers who could legally strike were seen on the picket lines over the past two weeks. The PSAC workers have disrupted ports, demonstrated at Parliament Hill, and held strong under an incessant media barrage. They have faced ridiculous fines and bullying. But they also have strong support in the broader population. We cannot let this struggle end with a disappointing, under-inflation contract. 

Vote “no”!

Continue the fight!

For wages above inflation!