Parliament Hill security unions complain of dismal morale
'When you start altering the uniform it becomes, potentially, a safety issue'
Security staffers on Parliament Hill have started wearing a patch on their uniforms to protest ongoing labour issues they say are contributing to plunging morale.
Some Parliamentary Protective Service (PPS) workers were already going to work wearing lime green hats and bracelets bearing the word 'respect' as a sort of passive protest.
On Monday, over 500 employees started wearing patches that read, "I protect democracy with or without a contract" — a reference to the fact that their collective agreements have expired and won't be renewed until a federal agency reviews an application to merge the three separate PPS bargaining units.
The three unions representing (PPS) staffers held a joint press conference on Parliament Hill to publicly voice their frustration today.
"It's come to a point where we just really need to band together to show that this really isn't working," said Brian Faust, president of the Senate Protective Service Employees Association.
The PPS was established in 2015 to unify security on Parliament Hill following 2014's shooting incident, which saw a man armed with a rifle storm Parliament's front entrance after shooting dead a soldier on sentry duty at the nearby war memorial.
The PPS brought together the former Senate and House of Commons Protection Services and the RCMP's Parliament Hill Security Unit (PHSU).
By law, the director of the Parliamentary Protective Service has to be a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
But being under the operational command of the RCMP is one of the main sources of frustration for House of Commons Security Services Employees Association (SSEA) President Roch Lapensée.
"The RCMP have no experience in dealing with a unionized workforce," he said. "The RCMP also have a tendency to impose their own culture. We all know that the RCMP have their own personnel issues nationwide."
At the press conference, Lapensée said he wanted the law amended to ensure the director of the PPS is not a member of the RCMP.
"The active director of PPS must be totally independent and only asked to answer to both [House and Senate] speakers," he said.
"It's crucial [for] Parliament to separate the powers."
The Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board is reviewing an application to amalgamate the three separate bargaining units representing PPS workers, which has put the negotiation of their expired collective agreements on hold.
Lapensée said he has no objections to creating a unified union, but the Public Service Alliance of Canada — which represents detection specialists responsible for scanning visitors entering Parliament Hill — is not on board with the idea.
"[It] is an entirely different type of training, a different type of role," said Greg McGillis, PSAC regional executive vice-president for the national capital region.
While detection specialists are dressed like other constables, McGillis said their duties and skill sets are not alike. He added that changes being made by the PPS to things like uniforms, equipment, safety procedures and the chain of command without proper consultation has contributed to a growing sense of dissatisfaction among his members.
"Making them seem more like the constables when, in fact, they don't have guns and they don't have the same training and they don't have the same background can be a dangerous thing," he said.
"It's not good for security by any means to have this kind of discord. To have people, who we have to trust with our lives, be this unhappy about their workplace isn't healthy. It isn't helping things."
Meanwhile, Faust said that members of the Senate Protective Service Employees Association want to talk about getting pay increases to compensate for extra work — but they can't while collective agreements are in limbo.
"We think we need to have a re-classification because we are working alongside RCMP and we're asked to respond like police officers," he said
"We don't have a problem taking on extra responsibilities and we've been up to the task during demonstrations and Canada Day celebrations and any big events that are going on."
A long wait
Both Lapensée and McGillis said there has been an ongoing lack of communication with the PPS regarding working conditions.
However, the organization's chief of staff said dialogue has continued between the parties and his organization is waiting for the board's decision on unifying the bargaining units before tackling work-related issues.
"Once the board rules on that, we'll go from there," said Joseph Law.
"There have been a number of meetings and consultations with the bargaining units. We're very open to keeping the lines of communication open."
Law, who is entering his fifth week on the job, said he understands workers are frustrated but protests — like the lime green hats — go against dress and deportment policies that have to be followed.
"When you start altering the uniform it becomes, potentially, a safety issue," he said. "Ultimately, there's other ways to address morale than to deviate from your policies."
Lapensée's said his union represents about 245 workers and about 170 have been reprimanded for going against the dress code.
"It's a waste of time, it's a waste of management and it's a waste of money as well," he said.