Border guards rallied at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport vowing to "shut the border down." Dozens of workers, adorning sandwich boards and carrying banners, chanted, "Shut it down! Shut it down!" as they walked around the airport Monday afternoon, according to CTV News.
"We screened every traveller for COVID, we kept the border running, our employer won’t even speak to us at the bargaining table," said Mark Weber, the national president of the Customs and Immigration Union (CIU).
"We’ve been without a contract for three years," said Frances Baroutoglou, Toronto’s CIU France president. "Through COVID we’ve continued to keep the border safe. We’ve taken on extra duties. We want a fair contract."
Unions representing about 8500 Canada Border Service Agency (CBSA) officers and customs officials are in the midst of a legal right to strike position on Friday.
According to a public interest commission report, wages are the issue. In line with 50 recent settlements in the public service, their employer posed 2.8, 2.2, and 1.5 percent increases in the first three years of a settlement. However, union members are demanding an additional 4.4 percent, arguing that that’s comparable to Royal Canadian Mounted Police earnings.
The employer rejected the comparison. Though it remains unclear what the union's strategy will be if it strikes on Friday. Canada has more than 1200 entry points across the country that could be impacted. But, despite the rhetoric, border workers could be classified as essential to prevent stoppages in their work.
"The borders will function but there will be a disruption," said Baroutoglou. "We’ll be in a position where we can work to rule. Doing our job but only to the letter of the law."
The Unions present, alongside the Public Service Alliance of Canada, agreed that demonstrators have the right to strike as of August 6 — three days before Canada reopens its borders to vaccinated US travellers.
Other issues include a guarantee no officer will work alone, reducing on-the-job harassment, and providing sufficient time for employees to practice with firearms. "We need to make sure people feel safe at work," said Baroutoglou. "Come Friday, we’re going to wreak havoc on the border."