155,000 striking federal workers deserve our support -- and a fair wage increase


Right now, federal public service workers across Canada are on strike. With 155,000 workers out across the entire country, this is one of the largest strike in Canadian history. 

This means, inevitably, that there is a backlash of propaganda in the mainstream and social media portraying the workers as greedy, entitled, selfish -- and useless. 

The truth is exactly the opposite.

What are they asking for, and why?

According to a recent report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, public sector workers' wages, adjusted for inflation, are at rates comparable to 2007. That's the equivalent of not getting a decent raise for sixteen years! 

That means that every year, these workers are falling further behind.

Through their union, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), the workers are asking for 4.5% wage increase, each year for three years.

At a time when most employers in Canada are raising wages by anywhere from 4% to 5.4%, that's a reasonable ask. A major survey of 2023 employment shows salaries in different sectors going up from anywhere from 3.1% to 5.8%.

And as we all know, the Consumer Price Index, usually used as a measure of the cost of living, is the highest it has been in 40 years in Canada: 7.6%.

The constant interest rate hikes, which serve to fatten the already obese banking industry while squeezing the rest of us, means that Canadians are spending ever-increasing percentages of their earnings on shelter.

The constantly rising cost of food is the subject of countless stories and discussions, as owners and shareholders of Loblaw, Metro, Empire (which owns Sobey's), and others raking in record profits.

Our two most basic costs -- food and shelter -- are ballooning. Those of us with decent salaries feel the pinch, when after mortgage is paid and the grocery shopping is done, there is little left for leisure -- which in turn has a devastating domino effect on the local economy.

Those of us without decent salaries are suffering. Surveys show that parents are skipping meals so their children can eat. Spending 75% of their incomes on housing. Taking out second mortgages. 

No one should have to face this, but certainly no one with a job should! 

Workers who haven't seen a material gain (adjusted for inflation) in 16 years have a legitimate grievance. A 4.5% increase every year for three years is quite reasonable. 

Who are the striking workers? What do they do?

These facts are gleaned mostly from Press Progress, who based the research on the workers' expired collective agreements (which are all publicly available online), and on interviews.

  • The largest group of striking PSAC workers are from the Programs and Administrative Services group. Of this group of about 90,000 members, 72% are women, and 61% earn less than $70,000.

  • These workers are data processors, bookkeepers, office equipment operators, secretaries, and court reporters. Several of these positions pay below $40,000, with some as low as $28,000! The classifications are highly outdated, and have not kept up with the private sector.

  • Among the strikers are Department of Defense firefighters. They earn 20% less than municipal firefighters.
  • Other positions include boiler plant operators, lighthouse keepers, power station operators, and aeronautics inspectors. There are specialists in drafting, engineering support, photography, and technical inspections.
These are highly specialized jobs that require a great deal of expertise. The same positions in the public sector pay substantially more. If government wages don't stay competitive, agencies won't be able to recruit the best talent -- which could have serious implications for the public.

Wages among PSAC workers have been lagging in the public sector for years, for decades. It's way past time that the federal government modernized these collective agreements and paid its workers a fair salary. 

"What about me? Where's my raise?" and other selfish, whiny responses

I have no doubt that millions of Canadians, both unionized and non-union, understand why strikes occur, and either support the PSAC workers or look on neutrally. 

The anti-strike rhetoric appears to come from two sources (with the usual disclaimers about generalizations).

One, rightwing pundits who hate the public sector and hate unions. There's no reasoning with the "starve the beast" crowd, the people who believe every service should generate a profit. However, it's always good to call out their hypocrisy. I'm sure they use public-sector services all the time. And I'm sure they expect those services to be fast, efficient, skilled, and up-to-date. 

The second source of anti-union rhetoric, from what I see and hear, is from non-union workers. I'm not getting a 4.5% raise, why should they?

I would ask them a few questions. If you could get a 4.5% raise, would you take it? 
Would you forgo a raise because someone else didn't get one?
If you had to stop work without pay for a while in order to get that 4.5% raise, would you do it? 
If you had this increase, would you think it was fair? 

I'd also remind them that when unionized workers get a better deal, wages in similar but non-unionized sectors also see increases. When employers are very anti-union, they will often cough up sizeable increases, as a presumed disincentive to organizing.

That's why people who live in communities with a higher concentration of union workers are better-off -- whether or not they belong to a union.

We union folks don't want to earn more than nonunion workers. We want all workers to be treated well and paid fairly, so that we can all enjoy a good life. 

We believe in solidarity, and that extends to all working people, those fortunate enough to belong to a union, and those who don't and can't. You might not support us, but we are fighting for you, all the time.

No one wants to strike. Being on strike is incredibly stressful, and a huge financial sacrifice. But when employers refuse to be reasonable, it's the only option.

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