BOWDEN – Scores of striking federal government workers have been on the picket line over the past week just outside Bowden Institution in a show of solidarity they say will prove there is resilience and determination behind their strike action.
“The union is very resilient. We are determined,” said Audrey Parker Brown, president of United Safety and Justice Employees (USJE) Local 30129 that represents nearly 18,000 federal workers. “We've got record numbers out for our general meeting in regard to providing information about the strike.
“We are here for the long haul.”
Parker Brown, a parole officer at Bowden Institution since 2009, was at the picket line on a cold and snowy morning on April 21 with up to 75 other federal government workers for day three of the strike.
Following 18 months at the bargaining table that was unable to achieve a deal for a new collective agreement, the strike was called on April 18 for 100,000 workers to walk off the job.
The strike action was initiated by the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), which is the umbrella bargaining agent for USJE members and many other federal government workers.
Parker Brown said the majority of workers on the picket line, many of them at the site from 6 a.m. until mid to late afternoon, were Bowden and area Correctional Service of Canada employees, a few from the Canada Border Services Agency and additional civilian employees from the nearby RCMP Police Dog Service Training Centre.
They were joined by family members, friends and supporters from other unions not directly involved in the labour dispute but sympathetic to the concerns of striking public sector workers.
“I always support workers in Alberta. A lot of these people that work at the Bowden institution live in Innisfail,” said Jason Heistad, an Innisfail town councillor who is the executive secretary-treasurer of the Alberta Union of Public Employees. “I have former school teachers that work at Bowden institution that actually educate the inmates. There are women who work at this institution who have very, very difficult jobs and I support them.
“The big thing is that working at an institution like this is tough work.”
Parker Brown said the main issues union members are fighting for are increased salaries to blunt the increased cost of living, more training against harassment and discrimination and better flexibility and consistency on the work-from-home issue.
“We were ordered back to work three days a week and that isn't entrenched in legislation anywhere just yet,” she said.
She said striking employees could be back to the prison site this week if ongoing negotiations between the federal government and PSAC fail to reach an agreement.
“We've been told that basically they there there's some (common) ground both ways; some concessions (have) been made. That was the last thing I read on it,” she said. “We haven't heard anything yet about resolving the strike.”