HOULTON, Maine — Just days before fully vaccinated U.S. citizens will be allowed back into Canada, employees of the Canadian Border Services Agency plan to begin a strike at 6 a.m. Friday that could lead to delays and traffic for Americans trying to enter the country.
The strike, which was approved by members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada and the Customs and Immigration Union labor unions, is a “work-to-rule” strike, in which workers remain on the job, but only work the minimum amount that is required by the letter of the law.
Contract negotiations to avert the strike were still underway Thursday evening.
Joey Dunphy, president of the New Brunswick branch of the Customs and Immigration Union, led a rally on Thursday in Shediac, New Brunswick, in front of the constituency office of Dominic LeBlanc as part of a last resort to secure a deal. LeBlanc serves as the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs in the Canadian government.
Dunphy said the demands for the Canadian border workers was equal pay parity with other law enforcement groups in Canada, as well as addressing a “toxic work environment” of discrimination and harassment.
“We have what we call the Public Service Employee Survey in Canada, and if you look at the survey over the past few years, the Canada Border Service Agency is almost at the bottom when it comes to employee satisfaction, but always near the top when it comes to discrimination in the workplace,” Dunphy said. “So when we talk about a toxic work environment, those are things I’m trying to address at the bargaining table, and the employers are saying no to everything we’re putting forward.”
The strike raises concerns regarding the soon-to-be influx of Americans who will be eligible to cross the land border into Canada after 16 months of closure due to the pandemic.
Popular land ports of entry, such as the Houlton-Woodstock border crossing connecting Maine and New Brunswick, could see traffic delays in border entry, as well as air and sea ports of entry between the two nations.
Not only could travel be affected, but commercial shipping across the border, which has continued uninterrupted throughout the pandemic, may also find itself at risk, Dunphy said.
“Whether it’s commercial goods or it’s travelers, there’s going to be disruption across the board,” he said.
The action by Customs and Immigration Union adds another layer to an already complex reopening process. In order to enter Canada, U.S. citizens must download the ArriveCAN to upload proof-of-vaccination status, and also must produce a negative COVID-19 test taken 72 hours before entry.
It is unknown how much this process, combined with the strike, will contribute to delays at border crossing stations across the two countries.
Jacqueline Callin, a spokesperson for the Canadian Border Services Agency, said the agency was prepared to respond to the strike in order to ensure operations would proceed as planned.
“The CBSA, as a dynamic and responsive organization that delivers high quality border services, will respond quickly to any job action/work disruption in order to maintain the safety and security of our border, ensure compliance with our laws, and keep the border open to legitimate travelers and goods,” Callin said.
“Ninety percent of frontline border services officers have been identified as essential, meaning that they will continue to offer essential services if there is a strike. We expect that our officers will continue to fulfill their duties with the highest level of integrity and professionalism.”
While Canada plans to reopen its border on Monday, the United States recently announced the continuation of the travel ban until at least Aug. 21, which earned the ire of Maine’s congressional delegation, who sent a joint letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas demanding the border be reopened. Gov. Janet Mills also criticized the decision by the U.S. to extend the travel ban.