Non-Public Funds workers in Kingston set to return to work

After nearly 100 days on the picket lines for civilian military workers in cities including Kingston, Non-Public Funds (NPF) workers will finally return to work this upcoming week.

Employees represented by Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) and Union of National Defence Employees (UNDE) have been at a crossroads with their employer, Canadian Forces Morale and Welfare Services (CFMWS), largely over discrepancies in pay between one base to another.

CFMWS was the first to announce the end of the strike on their website, on Thursday saying they were awaiting the unions next steps.

"We’re pleased to announce that PSAC/UNDE has ratified the agreement with three of the striking bases in Ontario, marking a significant milestone. However, we’re disappointed that employees in Montreal/St-Jean, Bagotville and Valcartier did not vote in favor of the agreement," the release reads.

Workers in Kingston, Ottawa and Petawawa voted 71% in favour of ratification of the latest offer presented by CFMWS, a settlement which will see 13.75% in wage increases over three years - with the first two bumps being retroactive to the past two years.

PSAC says the average employee will see their base salary increase by about $6,180 by the end of 2024.

The agreement, however, fails to secure a national pay grid, but with the deal expiring in just over a year, members could be fighting for that change again in relatively short order.

In a release from PSAC, the union says the settlement specifically leaves the door open for further discussion of establishing such a pay grid.

The settlement provides increases of 4.6% per year totaling 13.75% — compounded to 14.5% — over the duration of the agreement, set to expire in 2025.

"The settlement also includes a commitment to consult with the union on the implementation of a single national job classification for all jobs, with an objective of negotiating revised rates of pay in future collective agreements," PSAC's release reads.

Robin Delve, president of Local 00681 with the Union of National Defence Employees, says members ratified this current agreement feeling confident that this core issue could be resolved in just over a year's time.

She says CFMWS has allowed more room for collaborating with the unions than they previously had been willing to.

"It's going to become actual fact with the next collective agreement," Delve said.

"There's a lot of work for both CFMWS to do and for the union, because we are going to collaborate on this, which was another thing that they didn't want previous to that [settlement]... Now they're going to allow us to collaborate on this, because there are things they don't know that we do."

Delve says they feel workers can have more accurate job descriptions by doing this as well as better and - importantly - equalized pay for identical jobs.

She says the agreement is not perfect, and members know that, but they were eager to return to work and having another round of bargaining set to come in just over a year made the agreement easier to stomach.

Delve says members feel like conditions are at least moving in the right direction, even if at a slower pace than they hoped.

"As we were calling it, take that ball down the field," Delve said.

"Was it perfect? No. Will it ever be perfect? Probably not, but, it was a very big step forward."

It wasn't a big enough step forward for the Quebec units in Bagotville, Montreal–St-Jean, and Valcartier who voted overwhelmingly in favour of remaining on strike - a total 80% of members voting to reject the settlement.

Delve says those employees are "grossly" underpaid even with 13% bump in pay, so those wage increases still weren't enough to break up the picket lines.

She said striking members in Valcartier in particular experienced rather aggressive responses from local police, something that PSAC National President Chris Aylward touched on in PSAC's press release.

"This settlement delivers important gains for our members after taking strike action for more than three months in the face of employer apathy, police intimidation, picket line violence, and the use of scab labour," said Aylward,

"That’s why our bargaining teams brought this offer to a vote – because ultimately bargaining is led by our members, and they deserved the opportunity to cast their ballot."

Delve said by and large in Kingston relations with the police and public were respectful, although there were some "scuffles" and picketers were at least once removed from the base.

With strike action over at the Ontario bases, the majority of employees will return to work this Tuesday, with some returning on Monday.

Owen Fullerton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, YGK News