Canadian border staff are set to begin a “work-to-rule” strike on Friday, three days before Canada is scheduled to allow fully vaccinated Americans and permanent residents to enter the country for nonessential travel for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
Two unions, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) and the Customs and Immigration Union (CIU), announced on Wednesday that almost 9,000 Canada Border Services Agency employees will “begin job action across the country” on Friday after failed attempts to reach a fair contract.
They said travelers and commercial traffic entering the country “should expect long lineups and lengthy delays at border crossings and airports.”
The groups said they served a strike notice to the government on Tuesday. They reportedly returned to the negotiating table after sending the message but were unable to reach a deal, according to Reuters.
In a work-to-rule strike, employees obey policies, procedures and laws that apply to their work and perform their jobs to “the letter of the law,” the unions wrote. That conduct includes not answering questions from travelers about border laws or gathering duties and taxes, according to Reuters.
The unions said their conduct “may cause long and unavoidable delays at Canada’s borders as workers carry out their jobs as they were trained to do.”
“We truly hoped we wouldn’t be forced to take strike action, but we’ve exhausted every other avenue to reach a fair contract with the government,” Chris Aylward, the PSAC's national president, said in a statement
“Treasury Board and CBSA [Canadian Border Services Agency] have been clear they aren’t prepared to address critical workplace issues at CBSA at the bargaining table,” he added.
The groups said that unionized employees with the two unions have not had contracts for more than three years and are now looking for better protections against toxic workplace culture at the CBSA, in addition to more equality with other law enforcement agencies in the country.
They are also reportedly asking for the ability to carry guns in areas like airports, according to Reuters.
The CBSA said it would "respond quickly to any job action/work disruption in order to maintain the safety and security of our border," according to Reuters.
The Treasury Board of Canada said it requested a mediator be chosen to "help bridge the differences," according to Reuters. It also said the government "has never walked away from these negotiations and remains available at the bargaining table."
The unions said they declared an impasse in December and applied for a Public Interest Commission hearing after the CBSA and Treasury “were unwilling to address these core issues.”
The commission released its report full of recommendations last week, including calls for discussions regarding a paid, pensionable meal period.
The two sides are scheduled to return to the negotiating table on Aug. 6, but the unions said the work-to-rule action will start at 6 a.m. throughout Canada if a new contract is not negotiated.
“We’ve continued to serve Canadians throughout the pandemic — keeping our borders safe, screening travellers for COVID-19 and clearing vital vaccine shipments,” Mark Weber, CIU national president, said in a statement.
“Now it’s time for the government to step up for CBSA employees,” he added.
Nonessential travel from the U.S. to Canada has been banned since March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic was beginning to take hold in the two countries.
Adults entering the country beginning Aug. 9 will need to show proof, in English or French, that they are fully inoculated with a vaccine approved for use in Canada.
Those vaccines include shots manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.