Ottawa

Striking military base workers rally in Ottawa

Striking security staff at CFB Kingston and cleaners from CFB Petawawa say they're looking for better working conditions and benefits.

'We feel five days sick leave is a very basic request and we feel it's fair'

About 70 employees of the Kingston Corps of Commissionaires travelled to Ottawa on Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019, to picket outside the company's Ottawa office. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

Striking security staff at CFB Kingston and cleaners from CFB Petawawa say they're looking for better working conditions and benefits.

Two rallies held Tuesday involved Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) members working security for the base in Kingston, Ont., for the Canadian Corps of Commissionaires, as well as cleaning staff who work at the base in Petawawa, Ont., for GDI Integrated Facility Services.

"We don't think our requests are outlandish," said Rob Howie, who has worked as a commissionaire for 12 years and was previously an infantry soldier for six years.

"We feel five days sick leave is a very basic request and we feel it's fair."

Rob Howie has worked for the commissionaires for 12 years and says the request for five paid sick days a year isn't outlandish. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

Nearly 90 commissionaires have been on strike for nine weeks, since late June, and say bargaining has broken down.

The majority of commissionaires employees are veterans in their second or third careers, said Sharon DeSousa, who works in the office of PSAC's regional executive vice-president.

"All they want is a safe workplace and to be treated with respect," she said.

Workers are also asking for $100 per year for a shoe allowance, which they say would help them purchase footwear they're required to have for their jobs.

The company said that's a new request that wasn't originally part of the negotiations. It also said the only requirement is that employees wear black shoes, and that any protective footwear deemed necessary in certain circumstances is covered by the company.

5 sick days unaffordable, CEO says

Even though the Ford government removed the requirement for two days of paid sick leave for employees across the province, the company chose to retain that offer for all its 550 employees, said Michael Voith, CEO of the Kingston Corps of Commissionaires.

The company has contracts in both the public and private sector, and the majority of its employees are not unionized. That means they wouldn't benefit from the union's request.

Voith said it would be unfair to offer five days of sick leave to only the handful of employees who are unionized.

"I can't allow special deals because I can't give everybody in our company five days. ... We can only afford two days. And it would be unfair and would be toxic in our company if I allowed them to have five days and the rest of the employees only got two days," he said.

The sick days would come into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.

CFB Kingston said its security requirements with military personnel and employees who are not part of the union's labour dispute, but said it is looking forward to their return once a resolution is reached.

"The commissionaires are part of our defence team and we value their contribution," said Captain Kimberly Lemaire.

Cleaners on strike

The second rally involved PSAC member cleaners at CFB Petawawa, who have been on strike for nearly four weeks. Their collective agreement expired on April 30.

Employees want an increase in wages, better benefits and better working conditions, the union said. They've set up picket lines at the base that have at times slowed traffic in Petawawa, Ont., since July 24.

Their employer, GDI Integrated Facility Services, said in an email that they're continuing to negotiate with the workers, and that the next round of negotiations is planned for Thursday. 

"GDI is working very hard to have them return to work as soon as possible," the company said in an emailed statement.

Striking workers gathered at their office on Industrial Road, near Trainyards.

With files from Kimberley Molina

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