TB bargaining: What could a strike look like?

There are over 165,000 PSAC members bargaining with Treasury Board and the Agencies right now.  

This is one of the largest groups of unionized workers in Canada. Together we have a lot of power.  

We’re using this power to put pressure on the government to come to the bargaining table ready to negotiate a new contract that includes fair wages that keep up with inflation, job security, equity in the workplace, and better work-life balance. 

If the government isn’t willing do this, PSAC members must be prepared to escalate our actions, up to and including going on strike. 

There are several diverse – and effective – ways to go on strike. 

Workers can engage in work-to-rule. This means obeying all the laws and rules applying to their work but doing things more slowly or following “the letter of the law” to stall productivity.  

A good example of this happened in August 2021, when PSAC members working at CBSA asked travelers entering the country every question in the manual, conducted full checks of receipts from cross-border shopping, and performed thorough commercial vehicle checks.  

This caused significant delays at border crossings. Two days later, CBSA returned to the bargaining table and the team successfully negotiated a new agreement.  

Work-to-rule can also mean refusing overtime and following your job description and the collective agreement to the letter. Take all your breaks and don’t do any extra work. 

Workers can also engage in study sessions. These are short “practice” strikes that show management what the consequences would be of a more prolonged strike. This could mean members holding a union meeting or educational event during working hours or leaving work an hour early. 

Workers can also take strategic strike action. Strategic strikes often involve a work stoppage by a limited number of members at specific locations, which are carefully chosen for maximum impact.  

A good example of a successful strategic strike took place in BC in the summer of 2022. The BC General Employees’ Union took job action against the provincial government by having a small number of workers picket at BC Liquor Distribution Branch warehouses, forcing government liquor stores to ration sales. After two weeks the provincial government returned to the bargaining table with a fair offer. 

Workers can engage in rotating strike action. This is a series of surprise work stoppages at various strategic geographic locations. They usually last for one day. For example, members in Ontario strike on Monday, then members in Quebec on Tuesday, then members in Manitoba, and so on.  

Rotating strikes are often used in the public sector. They minimize impacts on people who rely on services while keeping employers guessing. Postal workers often use this strategy, most recently in 2018. In September 2021, daycare workers in Quebec began a series of rotating strikes. In December, they were successful in achieving a tentative agreement.

And finally, a general strike is a full work stoppage by all members of a bargaining unit at the same time. This is what many people think of when they hear the word strike, but it’s only one tool in the toolbox. 

Members working at the Office of the Auditor General used a combination of work-to-rule and strategic strike tactics before ramping up to a general strike at the end of February 2022. In mid-March the employer changed its bargaining position, and a new contract was achieved. 

Regardless of what a strike looks like, the best way to avoid a strike is to prepare for a strike – getting involved and taking action are key

Keep informed, stay engaged, and take part in PSAC’s actions, information sessions, lunch and learns, and workshops.