Public service picket lines snarled traffic and roads outside major Canadian Forces bases as the federal labour dispute unfolded Wednesday.
Picket lines were set up at bases in Ontario, including at Petawawa, Kingston, Borden and North Bay. Picket lines were also established at Canadian Forces Base Valcartier, Que., as well as CFB Esquimalt and CFB Comox on Vancouver Island, CFB Cold Lake, CFB Edmonton and CFB Wainwright in Alberta as well as at Shilo, Man.
Strikers were also outside military installations throughout the Maritimes, including Halifax, Greenwood, Goose Bay, St. John’s and Gagetown, June Winger, national president of the Union of National Defence Employees (UNDE), told this newspaper. The protests in Halifax locked up traffic in the downtown core, she said.
“Everything is going fairly well,” Winger said. “People are in good spirits.”
The Department of National Defence did not respond to a request for comment on what impact the strike was having on the operations of both the department and Canadian Forces.
UNDE, which represents 20,000 employees at National Defence, decided not to picket outside DND’s headquarters in downtown Ottawa or its Carling Avenue campus. The focus for Ottawa pickets was on high profile locations such as the Prime Minister’s Office, Winger noted.
“We want the government to see what’s happening.”
Winger said the strikers will be on the picket lines until a settlement is reached. “We’re open to negotiations,” she added. “We want to get this settled. But right now it’s such a question mark.”
Winger pointed out that there are labour shortages at National Defence but instead of hiring staff or paying existing staff more money, the department hires outside contractors at high wages. “I don’t understand their money management scheme,” she said. “It wouldn’t work in my house. It wouldn’t work in the houses of most Canadians. Why would you pay contractors these big wages when you can pay your employees a proper wage?”
Traffic on roads at a number of the bases was brought to a crawl and some public transit was being rerouted. But traffic was still getting through to the bases and essential services such as military search and rescue out of 19 Wing Comox, BC has not been affected.
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Camille Soper, president of UNDE Local 21007, outside 19 Comox, BC told this newspaper that the strikers are peaceful. She noted that there are around 200 people on strike who will take part in various shifts on the picket line in Comox. The strike also has federal staff from various departments such as Fisheries and Oceans.
“Our goal is not to disrupt here because we work on the base and we enjoy a good relationship with the military,” Soper said. “We aren’t blocking military (personnel) from going to work.”
She said an increase in salaries is one of the major focuses of the strike action. Soper pointed out that plumbers and electricians working for National Defence earn around $34 an hour. “Try getting a plumber anywhere else for $34 an hour,” she said. “It’s impossible.”
Ken Bovair, president of UNDE Local 635, at Canadian Forces Base North Bay, told The Nugget that wages, being able to work remotely and mandatory training on racial discrimination are also sticking points in negotiations.
(With files from the North Bay Nugget)