As last week’s newsletter was on its way to your inbox, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) announced they had reached a tentative agreement with the Treasury Board, ending the union’s historic, 12-day nationwide strike. Then on Thursday, the Union of Taxation Employees sub-unit reached a nearly identical deal with the Canada Revenue Agency. PSAC’s 155,000 members will now vote on both proposed agreements.

Before we get to this week’s topic, let’s take a moment to review what the union managed to achieve. On the biggest issue — wages — the union fell short of its demand, but was able to compel the Treasury Board to improve on the latter’s previous offers. If the membership accepts the agreement, federal public servants will receive a 12.6 per cent compounded wage increase across a four-year contract, plus a pensionable, lump-sum payment of $2,500. Although this wage schedule is less than what the union was seeking — 13.5 per cent over three years — it is nevertheless markedly above other union wage settlements over the past year. I’m generally skeptical of lump-sum payments (because they don’t factor into future wage increases), but given the recent inflationary circumstances it’s hard to fault the union for sending this particular offer to members.

The tentative agreement also contains steps toward maintaining ongoing remote work arrangements. As far as we know, these will include requiring that remote work requests be evaluated individually, as well as the creation of joint, department-level employer-union committees to oversee future remote work practices. It remains to be seen how robust the contract language regarding remote work will ultimately be. Nevertheless, it does seem that PSAC managed to cement an important principle: the employer must consult with union members about remote work. Not a ‘right’ to remote work per se, but something to build on.

Less remarked upon, PSAC won important protections against contracting out, (i.e., privatizing public sector jobs). In the event of lay-offs, no PSAC member will lose their job if they can perform the duties of any contractor working with the federal government. Such language should help disincentivize future contracting-out.

Few strikes ever produce unequivocal victories. This one in particular should be assessed against the experiences of unions in the post-COVID economy. A labour movement seemingly acclimated to a low-inflation economy was simply unprepared to respond to the surge in prices we saw beginning in early 2021. Outside of a few notable exceptions, union wage settlements have lagged inflation considerably and have also consistently trailed average wage increases for non-union and union workers overall. The example PSAC just set by striking and compelling a large employer to “sweeten the pot” will hopefully inspire unions across the country.

Now onto this week’s story.

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