Canada Border Services Agency officers are the country's "first line of defence" against drugs, guns and bad intentions, a fact their union feels their pay should start reflecting.
The Customs and Immigration Union has sponsored billboards in Windsor, Niagara Falls and Ottawa calling for "fair" treatment for staff members, who have gone without a contract for three-and-a-half years.
"The duties that are being asked right now of our officers are in line with any police force in this country," said union president Jean-Pierre Fortin. "We've got new powers, our officers are armed, they are intercepting the drugs the firearms, they are intercepting people who have been drinking and driving like police officers."
"We don't see that recognition in our contract salary-wise," he added.
Just like other law enforcement
Fortin said CBSA employees believe their salaries should be in line with those of other members of law enforcement, including correctional officers.
There's a gap of about $12,000 between the salaries of CBSA staff and employees of correctional services and the RCMP, according to the union official.
The union also wants to protect officers accused of wrongdoing from being immediately sent home without pay even before they are proven guilty and for staff to only be able to serve for 25 years so skill levels can be maintained.
He added the red and grey billboards are about helping make sure members of the public understand all of the different tasks CBSA officers do — especially when it comes to working with asylum seekers crossing Canada's borders.
"That recognition from the public ... is there, but we need to refresh in their memory the terms of our collective agreement because our members right now are getting really angry by the fact ... the RCMP have a new contract, the correction services have a new agreement, and we don't see that recognition right now from the Liberal government," he explained.
Disturbance at the border
Union representatives recently had an audience under the Public Interest Commission to air their concerns and are expecting a completed report aimed at reaching a settlement with the employer in 2018.
"But we're not too hopeful of the outcome of this so we have to follow the process," said Fortin. "The next step will be to take a strike vote."
He explained the security role of the CBSA is considered an essential service, meaning they can't quit protecting the border during a strike, but they are able to stop certain aspects of their job, including collecting taxes.
"Our officers will never put the security of Canadians in jeopardy," said Fortin. "But can that resolve the outcome of that if the government and CBSA are not coming in good faith to negotiate with us, so obviously there could be some disturbance at the border in the coming months."