RCMP in North Vancouver B.C. are removing the yellow stripes from their uniforms in protest of being without a contract, and to encourage members to form a union, says Cpl. Bryan Mulrooney.
Mulrooney encourages members to either rip the yellow stripes out at the seam of their pants or wear navy blue cargo pants despite a sudden announcement late yesterday that pay will be raised for officers for the first time in two years.
"This has been in the works for a few weeks now, there's a group that sat down over lunch one day, and thought how can we sort of light a fire under people and get them on board with this," said Mulrooney.
"We wanted to do something that's visible yet still respectful."
No pay raise since 2014
Some RCMP members have been lobbying to form a union after winning the right to do so two years ago. They are frustrated by pay levels, blamed for driving fresh recruits to join other police ranks.
Anger was touched off in February when they learned top brass received $1.7 million in bonus pay.
Mulrooney says that nearly everyone in the North Vancouver detachment has agreed to remove their stripes in solidarity, and talk has begun in other detachments.
He says the goal is to get officers across Canada participating until they get a fair wage package.
Government raises pay
RCMP officers had been without a contract since January, 2015, but in a surprise move on Wednesday evening, Public Safety Canada announced retroactive salary increases for the RCMP, approved by the Treasury Board of Canada.
The increases include a 1.25% raise effective January 1, 2015, another 1.25% raise effective January 1, 2016, and a 2.3% market adjustment effective April 1, 2016.
The Department says the increases will apply to RCMP members holding the rank of Superintendent and below, and will bring RCMP total compensation, including pensions and benefits, in line with the compensation of the eight police forces covering 90 per cent of Canada's population.
"The Government of Canada is committed to supporting the dedicated and proud members of Canada's national police service. We believe that these salary increases are both reasonable for RCMP members, and a prudent use of public funds," said Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.
RCMP officers have been seeking pay parity with other forces of comparable size. This is the the first raise for rank-and-file members since January, 2014.
Salaries for RCMP officers have traditionally aimed for an average of the top three comparable forces in Canada, but in February they ranked 72nd among 80 comparably sized police forces, according to RCMP Commissioner, Bob Paulson, and Deputy Commissioner, Dan Dubeau.
Mulrooney says despite this last minute news, they are still without a contract for 2017 and so will continue their protest.
Officers hesitant to start union
The goal of the remove the stripe campaign is to make the public aware of their pay situation, but it is also to get members on board with signing up for a union.
Until recently, the RCMP pay council negotiated member salaries with the federal government, but commissioner Paulson dissolved that group a year ago following the Supreme Court of Canada ruling granting officers the right to collective bargaining.
Mulrooney says joining a union would give members more bargaining power when they speak with the Treasury board about a contract, but officers have been hesitant to join.
"That Supreme Court ruling didn't allow us to go to say the Teamsters, or CUPE, or one of these other established unions. So, what that left us with is a bunch of police officers essentially saying well you know I don't know how to form a union, do you? Well I don't either," said Mulrooney.
"Some of the guys took the bull by the horns and started these associations, but I mean in reality we're all police officers first, none of us are union leaders so it's been a bit of an uphill battle getting that going and then getting the support from members for it."
According to Mulrooney there are two main associations vying to be the union for Canada's RCMP officers, the Mounted Police Professional Association of Canada, and the National Police Federation.
He says either of those two groups would need to sign up 40 per cent of members to form a union.
Losing Mounties to other forces
Speaking with members at other detachments, Mulrooney says he's hearing about a lot of Mounties leaving the RCMP for higher paying forces in Vancouver, New Westminster, and West Vancouver.
"We're having trouble keeping members, and we're having trouble recruiting the best members, because quite frankly the best and the brightest are getting picked up by the other police forces that are paying and overall compensating them better," said Mulrooney.
Speaking to a committee of Senators in February, Commissioner Paulson said he was concerned about employee retention, saying the force is seeing officers leave to work for municipal forces, including Vancouver, Edmonton, and Calgary.
"When you're not getting the best applicants, you may not see a difference in the next year or two, but five years from now when we're constantly hiring the bottom of the barrel for applicants, that's going to be an issue … And when we're losing experienced members to other forces. That's our future leadership that's leaving," said Mulrooney.
Mulrooney says the biggest issue with understaffing is officer safety if there is a lack of back up, but also of note is staff morale when people aren't able to get summer leave or vacation with their families, forcing members to burn the candle at both ends.