On Thursday, April 6, PSAC-UTE Local 00014 essential workers met with members of the local executive, Regional VP Jamie vanSydenborgh, and 2nd National VP Adam Jackson to talk about essential services agreements, and what happens to essential workers in the event of job action.
It is important to remember that while we each feel the consequences of contract negotiations and job actions in which we participate, none of this happens in a vacuum. If we go on strike, there are impacts for each one of us as employees and union members; and millions of other Canadians who rely on us to ensure that programs like the Canada Child Benefit continue without disruption.
This is a stressful time: each of us is trying to balance our own work, family, and financial situations against the need to present a strong, united union at the bargaining table. We have to support each other. We have to remember that bargaining, strike votes, and job actions are not about any one person: they’re about showing the employer that we know our value as a group of public servants, and that we’re done letting them play games and deny us a fair contract that accurately reflects our skills, and our contributions to the Canadian public.
The employer would like nothing more than to pit us against each other. They have been engaging in union-busting activities since the start of this round of bargaining. The best leverage we have is a strong, unified opposition to their treatment of our members.
The Q&A below includes questions we’ve received since the essential worker meetings with the employer, including questions submitted/raised for the session we hosted on Thursday, April 6 with our UTE regional VP, the Local 00014 executive, and our local’s essential workers. If you have questions that haven’t been answered here, please send it in so that we can help. If you prefer to watch the recording of last night’s meeting, email Kerry for a link (it’s too big to embed in this page, but we can share it through OneDrive).
Your Local 00014 executive
Note: unless an update is indicated after the question text, the information is current as of April 6, 2023.
Why am I/am I not an essential worker? How is that fair?
Essential Services legislation isn’t fair for workers, because it undermines our right to strike.
There are plenty of good reasons why Canadians need some of us to continue working, even during job action, but the legislation needs changes to ensure that it protects workers at the same time it ensures that essential services are provided.
Section 87.5 of the Canada Labour Code obligates the employer and the union to “make every reasonable effort to enter into an agreement that provides for the maintenance of essential services in the event of a work stoppage.” The union’s role in this process is to negotiate with the employer to ensure that the legal requirements are met, with the smallest possible impact to worker’s rights.
Nationally, about 4% of our 35,000 UTE members have been deemed “essential” workers. In Hamilton, as with other regions housing contact centres, the approximately 350 essential workers comprise about 19% of our membership!
I don’t want to be an essential worker. How do I get un-designated?
You can speak to the employer, but as far as we are aware, no changes are able to be made to the essential worker list after March 31, 2023.
Do we really have to pay 25%?
The short answer: no. Regulation 27 is 30 years old, and has not been reviewed in a long time. PSAC used to have the same type of regulation, which has since become voluntary. Since UTE is a component of PSAC, the PSAC rule is the one that we will follow. The 25% contribution is VOLUNTARY. That said, contributions of any size help support the strike by contributing to the Ontario region hardship fund.
What isn’t clear in the text of the regulation is that any money you submit to the local while you’re working as an essential employee during a strike will be accounted for on a T4 slip issued by the union. 100% of this amount will be documented as union dues. As you’re no doubt aware, this is 100% deductible from your employment income. In other words, essential employees are able to earn and retain 75% of their usual net income (compared to the maximum of $375 per week in Ontario for striking workers), AND the submitted amount is non-taxable.
Some math: if you bring home $1800 per pay period, 25% of your net pay is $45. If, like 2005, a strike lasts for 3 days, that’s $135, which is actually 7.5% of your net for that pay period. In comparison, non-essential worker at the same classification & step loses $315-540 (17.5-30%) of their net over the same 3 day period, depending on their ability to participate in strike action. This is why any contribution to the hardship fund, whether it’s 25% of your net or not, is an important act of solidarity.
What happens if I don’t contribute 25% of my net pay?
In terms of sanctions under PSAC and UTE regulations? Nothing. The contribution is VOLUNTARY.
In terms of your standing in the union? Nothing. The contribution is VOLUNTARY.
In terms of your ability to be supported by union stewards during a grievance, etc.? Nothing. The contribution is VOLUNTARY.
It’s important for you to understand that your contributions to the Ontario Region hardship fund — whether they’re 25%, 8%, or 80% — help mitigate some of the financial burden of being on strike for our brothers, sisters, and friends in our local and beyond. Essential workers can’t engage in strike activities, but they can help ensure that the other 96% of the members of our union can maintain a strong, vocal presence to get 100% of us a fair contract that honours our contributions to Canadians.
If an essential worker is planning to remit 25% (or some other portion) of their net pay to the hardship fund, is a payment plan possible?
Absolutely. Any contribution you can make, however you make it will be gratefully welcomed. We don’t have the details just yet (as of April 7) about how such contributions will be made, but watch this space for details as soon as we have them.
What does the 25% remittance go toward? Are there specific things it will be spent on or used to fund? Is there a link or reference to a breakdown on how it is used?
Any contributions received will be directed toward the PSAC Ontario region hardship fund. These funds are distributed to striking members who require support due to financial hardship caused/exacerbated by strike action. These funds are distributed only after an application is submitted to the union and accepted. (Reference: please see p. 32 of the PSAC Strike Manual(4X6.75)-6/10 (psacunion.ca).)
What happens to “leftover” hardship fund money after a strike?
Awesome question, and one that we don’t currently know the answer too. Watch this space for an update when we have information to share!
Can’t the union dues that are collected be used for the hardship fund?
Union dues already fund (among other things) strike pay for striking workers. Hamilton does not administer its own hardship fund, and so donations to the Ontario region fund are used to support striking members experiencing financial hardship.
During a strike, it’s not uncommon for other unions and organizations like the Ontario Federation of Labour and the Canadian Labour Congress to contribute to hardship funds as well. PSAC-UTE has contributed to other unions’ hardship funds in the past. It is part of the solidarity of the labour movement.
If someone is on LWIA or sick leave, are they still subject to the 25% contribution?
If someone is on LWIA or other forms of pre-approved leave, they would not be an essential worker. Regardless, the contributions are voluntary, not mandatory. If someone on leave wants to make a contribution (regardless of the amount or frequency), they’re welcome to do so, and details about how to make such a contribution will be shared as soon as we have them.
What if I have financial hardship during the strike, or am unable to pay the 25% contribution? Is there a form or procedure to get assistance?
If you are an essential worker, you are not on strike. Therefore, the hardship fund for striking workers is not available to you.
Remember, the 25% contribution is VOLUNTARY. As much as it will be appreciated when/if you contribute, no one wants to force our essential workers into a situation of hardship any more than we want to see our striking workers bearing the brunt of then financial impact of strike action.
For some context – if you are an SP04 who has a net (bring-home) pay of $1800/pay, you’re earning $180/day even during job action. A non-essential, striking worker will earn no more than $75/day. It’s true that essential workers will be working 7.5 hours/day and striking members are eligible for strike pay after 4 hours of picketing or other strike action; but striking workers are netting a maximum of $18.75 per hour, compared to a $24/hour net for essential workers. The contributions you make to the hardship fund help close the hourly net pay gap for the most impacted workers.
Do I get some kind of donation receipt for contributions to the strike fund?
The contributions aren’t a donation, per se. But, they are documented by PSAC on a T4 slip as union dues. These will be deducted (100%) from your total income for the 2023 tax year on line 21200 of your tax return. In other words, there is a dollar-for-dollar deduction from your taxable income for the year of the strike action.
What happens if I am sick on a day I am supposed to work during the strike?
This is a question for the employer to answer. The information that has been provided to other locals is that sick leave will only be approved with a medical note in which your physician confirms that they are aware that you are an essential worker during a strike. As we say, this must be confirmed with the employer.
Will we have to report to the office during a strike? What does that mean for crossing a picket line? Will management have to come and get us?
Again, this will be a conversation to have with the employer, in case there are any changes. Currently, if you are a contact centre employee who normally works from home, there is not a requirement for you to attend the office. Assuming that continues to be the case (i.e., if the employer does not make a change), then you would not have to physically cross a picket line.
If you regularly work in the office and will continue to attend the office in the event of job action, you will only be able to cross the picket line upon presentation of a copy of your essential services letter. An electronic copy is acceptable, though we recommend that you print a copy as well in case your phone is lost/out of battery/etc. as you cannot cross the picket line without presenting the letter every time.
If you’re required to attend the office and cross the picket line, management will meet you to escort you into the building.
Please be assured that striking employees will never harass essential workers, or prevent them from accessing the workplace (upon presentation of their essential services letter to a picket captain). We are in this together, and we are all members of the same union. Solidarity!
We were sent a list of things we can do to support our striking colleagues, including NOT working overtime. However, OT surveys are filled out in advance and we are discouraged from cancelling overtime. What are we supposed to do?
Our understanding is that the employer and union have agreed that all overtime will be cancelled in the event of a strike.
Additionally, you cannot be made to work overtime, regardless of whether you signed up for it or not. Essential workers are required to work their regular job for their regular hours.
If you were to work overtime, you would be undermining the effectiveness of strike action, which has the potential to prolong a strike or negatively impact our new contract.
What else should we do/not do as essential workers?
- support your striking colleagues: donate to the hardship fund; report any requests by the employer to do extra work/a job other than your regular job; drop by the line with snacks, bottled water, etc.
- feel free to participate in pickets on your lunch break (but, see below for some important considerations)
- your job exactly as required.
- take your 60.01 leave each hour. The collective agreement continues to apply to essential workers, because you will be working during the strike. This leave is part of your job.
- display PSAC-UTE Teams backgrounds, signs, buttons, etc. You can access the backgrounds here.
- participate in pickets during your 15 minute wellness breaks – you are paid by the employer during those breaks and cannot participate in strike action
- be late coming back from your breaks or lunch, especially if you’re participating in job action during your lunch. You can be disciplined, and will have very limited ability to intervene
- participate in ANY strike action while wearing your employee ID visibly. This includes engaging in any work-to-rule activities. You can be disciplined by the employer and our ability to intervene is very limited.
- work overtime, take on extra duties, provide any additional assistance to the employer
We are waiting for clarification on issues like whether wellness reps, neighbourhood “mayors,” etc. should continue those activities. Our current understanding is that if they’re not part of our regular job responsibilities, extra duties should not be conducted during a strike period. That said, health & safety, building evacuation officers, and first aiders are required in our offices and both the union and the employer take those roles very seriously. It would not make sense to withdraw those roles, even during a strike as no one wants to endanger anyone.
For essential workers from the L&D community in the contact centre who are scheduled to start training sessions in May 2023: should the strike run that long, clarification from the employer would be required with respect to whether scheduled trainings would proceed.
How will a strike impact the contract of term employees?
For essential workers, there is no break in service, because you’d work during a strike period and those days count toward the 3 year timeframe for administrative conversion. For non-essential workers, a break in service would only happen after 30 days. Strike days do not count toward the 3 year timeframe for administrative conversion, but unless a strike exceeds 30 days, it would not cause the suspension of administrative conversion.
Will my schedule change as an essential worker during a strike period?
It is possible for the employer to remove compressed schedules and make other changes. We have not heard that any changes are planned, but you will want to confirm with the employer what will happen in the event of a strike.
Will essential contact centre employees be subject to CCAAT listening during a strike period?
Since there are no contact centre TLs who have been designated essential, it seems unlikely; but, you will want to address this question to the employer.