Canadian border agents may strike Friday. Here's what it means for travel and the supply chain

The union representing the agents is trying to negotiate a new labor agreement with the government, but said they will strike if it's not secured by Friday.
Posted at 5:09 PM, Jun 06, 2024

Canadian border agents are preparing to strike Friday — potentially creating travel disruptions for nearly 400,000 people who cross the U.S.-Canada border every day — unless its government can agree to a new labor agreement.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada and the Customs and Immigration Union — the two unions representing Canada Border Services Agency employees — gave the country's Treasury Board until 4 p.m. ET to come to terms at the bargaining table. And if a new contract isn't reached by then, more than 9,000 CBSA employees will take part in the nationwide job action.

"We are still hopeful that we can reach an agreement to avoid strike action and any potential delays at Canada's borders," said Sharon DeSousa, PSAC national president. "But the clock is ticking for Trudeau's Liberal government to get to work on a fair contract for our members."

Border agents pushing for the new agreement have been without a contract for more than two years, PSAC said. The union said they're now seeking a bump in pay to align their wages with that of the country's other law enforcement agencies, as well as remote work or telework options, improved retirement benefits and stronger workplace protections.

"Our members have overwhelmingly told us they are prepared to fight for fair wages, equitable retirement and to make CBSA a better place to work," said Mark Weber, CIU national president. "It's time for the government to step up for CBSA employees."

In May, PSAC members voted 96% in favor of a strike mandate, with mediation sessions beginning June 3. The union said that if a strike were to occur, more than 90% of front-line border officers, who are considered essential workers, would still provide basic services. But that still leaves the threat of slowed traffic through the country's national entry points.

In 2021, a work-to-rule action — a form of protest in which employees perform the minimum amount of work their contracts require in order to slow production — caused major delays at airports and the nation's borders until the government and border unions came to an agreement after 36 hours of mediation.

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A strike is also disruptive to the supply chain between the U.S. and Canada. The partners traded $3.6 billion worth of goods and services across the border each day in 2023, Canada reports, and Bureau of Transportation Statistics data says trucks carried 55% of freight between the two countries in 2022.

On Tuesday, the Canadian Trucking Alliance urged border employee unions and the federal government to come to an agreement to protect the country's trade investment and partnership with the U.S., particularly as it's already facing potential disruptions because of railway labor negotiations and "ongoing volatility" throughout the trucking sector due to significant retirements and "loss of labor/capital productivity because of federal legislation governing sick days."

"These are undoubtedly complex and challenging decisions to make, but the Government of Canada must lead in making those decisions decisively with the principle to prevent economic chaos from threatening Canada's supply chains and economic viability," CTA said.

The Treasury Board of Canada said Wednesday the current threat of another strike undermines the bargaining efforts and is disruptive to the services the country's residents expect while traveling across the border.

"Negotiation is a process of give and take. The government is prepared to make concessions, but there needs to be movement on both sides," the Board said. "We are disappointed that PSAC has threatened labor disruptions when we are ready and willing to negotiate and reach a fair agreement through good faith bargaining."

In the event of a strike Friday, the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne said that the CBSA had informed the council that the domestic lane will still remain open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily, with Cornwall Port of Entry officials assuring that travelers will be able to cross safely and as quickly as possible.

Still, the council warned that increased wait times are likely to occur along with picketing and "wearing of union-related accessories." The CBSA said it will address any delays quickly and will update travelers on its website.