Canadian border guards vote for strike days before reopening to American tourists


A U.S. Customs and Protection vehicle stands next to a sign indicating the border is closed to non-essential traffic at the Canada-U.S. Border crossing at the Thousand Islands Bridge, to combat the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Lansdowne, Ontario, Canada on September 28, 2020. REUTERS / Lars Hagberg / File Photo

VANCOUVER, July 27 (Reuters) – Canadian border guards and customs officials on Tuesday voted in favor of a strike just days before fully vaccinated U.S. citizens and permanent residents were allowed into Canada, the officials said. unions representing workers, a move that could potentially cause disruption. and hurt businesses emerging from the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.

A strike would slow commercial traffic across the land border, the unions said, and impact international mail and the collection of duties and taxes. But a spokesperson for the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) said 90% of frontline border services officers have been identified as “essential” and will therefore continue to work in the event of a strike.

Last week, Canada announced plans to allow fully vaccinated Americans on August 9 and fully vaccinated international travelers from September 7. The border has been closed for non-essential travel for more than 16 months due to the coronavirus pandemic. Read more

The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) and the Customs and Immigration Union (SDI) said in a joint statement that the strike could begin as early as August 6 after 8,500 members voted in favor of the action. Contract negotiations reached an impasse in December 2020, the unions said.

Before the pandemic, tourism was the fifth largest industry in Canada, contributing C $ 105 billion ($ 83.4 billion) to GDP and providing one in ten jobs, according to the Tourism Industry Association of Canada .

Corinne Pohlmann, senior vice president of national affairs for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said a strike would worsen problems faced by small businesses throughout the pandemic – slow shipping times, lack of customers , increased costs.

“This is not at all favorable for many small businesses that depend on either goods crossing the border or people crossing the border,” Pohlmann said, calling the timing of the strike “extremely unfortunate.”

But CIU chairman Mark Weber told Reuters the union did not plan the strike to coincide with the reopening of the US border, stressing that the unions started the strike vote “before we even knew which day the borders would open “.

Weber still hopes they can strike a deal with the federal government without going on strike. Their demands include higher pay, the ability to carry guns in areas like airports, and to tackle “toxic” workplace issues, he said.

Federal government is “disappointed” that PSAC has rejected a “fair offer to its members” but remains “open to a return to the bargaining table at any time,” a government spokesperson said in a statement sent by email.

CBSA spokeswoman Judith Gadbois-St-Cyr said officers have proven their resilience since the start of the pandemic by helping to prevent the spread of the virus and its variants.

“We expect our officers to continue to perform their duties with the highest level of integrity and professionalism.”

($ 1 = 1.2592 Canadian dollars)

(This story corrected “employees” to “front line border service officers” in the second paragraph)

Reporting by Moira Warburton in Vancouver; Additional reporting by Anna Mehler-Paperny in Toronto and Steve Scherer in Ottawa; edited by Grant McCool and Aurora Ellis

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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