Canadian border guards and officials voted Tuesday to go on strike just days before fully vaccinated U.S. residents will allowed to enter Canada, ending the border restriction that has been in place since the pandemic first began.
Reuters reported that the Public Service Alliance of Canada and the Customs and Immigration Union said in a joint statement that their 8,500 members had voted in favor of the action, after talks stalled in December.
The strike is set to begin Aug. 6, three days before the U.S.-Canada border is scheduled to reopen for fully vaccinated American citizens and permanent residents. Nonessential travel across the land border between the two countries has been prohibited since March 2020.
Mark Weber, president of the Customs and Immigration Union, said the two labor groups had not planned for their strike to coincide with the border reopening. He said the vote had begun "before we even knew what day the borders would be opening."
The unions are demanding higher pay and the right to carry guns in certain areas like airports. They also want the Canadian government to confront what they called toxic workplace issues.
A government spokesperson told Reuters in a statement that officials were "disappointed" that their offer had been rejected, calling it a "fair offer" for union members.
Canada Border Services Agency spokesperson Judith Gadbois-St-Cyr said border officers have been resilient throughout the pandemic and have helped to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus and variants.
"We expect that our officers will continue to fulfill their duties with the highest level of integrity and professionalism," she said.
A strike would undoubtedly impact commercial traffic at the land border between the U.S. and Canada, Reuters reported. Tourism is Canada's fifth-largest industry.
Senior vice president for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Corinne Pohlmann, warned that a strike could exacerbate problems that were brought on by the pandemic, such as slow shipping times.
"It's not favorable at all for a lot of small businesses relying on either goods coming across the border or people coming across the border," Pohlmann told Reuters.