Earlier this week, Bob Jackson, PSAC Regional Executive VP for BC, was joined by our National President Robyn Benson and Irene Lanzinger, President of the BC Federation of Labour, on a telephone town hall with PSAC members in BC to discuss the federal election.
We have summarized some of the questions from PSAC members and the answers from Bob, Robyn, and Irene for members that may have been unable to take part.
We encourage all members to continue the discussion and contact the PSAC BC Region with further questions or comments about the federal election.
R from Nanaimo: What is the Conservative position sick leave in the federal public service?
Robyn: On sick leave: As you know, we’ve been in bargaining for some time now, and the employer has been trying to introduce a short term disability program. We have steadfastly said we will not negotiate concessions, we will not accept a program where our members have to choose between going to work sick and having a full pay cheque, because the program they are introducing has an element of leave without pay.
The employer, just recently in Bill C-59, made legislative changes that say they can – anytime over the next four years – reach in to our collective agreements and take out sick leave.
I want you to know that your Union, and all of our members – yourselves included – have been fighting this. We’ve filed an injunction against the government and we will fight this in court.
Quite frankly, the ballot box will be the place where we show the Conservatives that we don’t want them to interfere with our collective agreements.
T from Surrey: What’s the PSAC’s position on strategic voting?
Robyn: The PSAC passed a resolution at its national convention in April. It had several be it resolveds, including that PSAC work to elect a federal government that respects worker and union rights and public services and governs for the benefit of all Canadian workers. We’re working closely with the Canadian Labour Congress and the Federations of Labour towards this goal. Perhaps Irene can comment on the broader labour perspective.
Irene: The BC Federation of Labour represents many unions in BC, some of whom are partisan and some of whom are not – some advocate strategic voting and some don’t. However, we all want to defeat Stephen Harper. I think, here in BC, the battle is largely between the Conservatives and the NDP – there are a few exceptions but not many.
I think people need to talk to the candidates, and look very carefully at what’s happening in their riding. At the BC Fed, we say that the NDP is the party that has the values that align most closely with those of the labour movement, but we do understand that unions have a broad range of strategies around who they support. I encourage everyone to do what they can to support candidates that support public services. This is an incredibly important election, and we all need to work hard on it.
B from Richmond: Do you think the government will attempt to open our collective agreements and change the sick leave program before the election? And what are your thoughts on the recent open letter to federal government workers that the Liberals released?
Robyn: No, I don’t anticipate the Conservatives will do it at this point. They’re busy with the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. In fact, there was a huge demonstration by farmers against the Conservatives today in Ottawa and for the first time in my memory there were cattle walking down Bank Street up to Parliament. I think that the Conservatives are a bit busy with other legislation right now.
With respect to the Liberal’s letter, yes I have a copy. It’s very interesting, and you have to read it closely. With respect to sick leave, it says that the Harper government has not justified why they plan to make changes to public sector sick leave and a Liberal government would review the bargaining mandate to ensure that it is fair and reasonable for the public service and all Canadians. And they go on to say that they are committed to bargaining in good faith with public sector unions. They don’t say anywhere in the letter that they will leave our sick leave alone, as it is, status quo.
On that note, the NDP released a statement today about federal public sector workers. I can tell you that I’ve spoken with many NDP MPs and with Thomas Mulcair, and the NDP has no intention of coming after our sick leave. Of that I’m very confident. The NDP have been very clear about this.
B in Victoria: I’m not a public sector worker. Why are public services important, and why is PSAC focusing on those issues? Why is the Vote to Stop the Cuts campaign important to me and my family?
Robyn: We focused the Vote to Stop the Cuts campaign on six issues that we felt were important to all Canadians. While many of our members, as public service workers, have directly felt the impact of cuts and job losses, Canadians as a whole have experienced cuts to services that they need – right across this country.
Canadians are suffering from a lack of public services. You may not need some of those public services today, but you might need them tomorrow. So regardless of whether you’re a public service worker or not, we felt it was important for Canadians to understand just how deeply the Conservatives have cut.
Bob: This is a really good question. Robyn’s touched on the six issues that we feel are important, but I just want to remind everybody that this election is not just about public service workers, but it’s about all Canadians. It’s about our future, about what we’re going to leave for our children and our grandchildren. It’s critical that we all get out to vote.
T from Surrey: It’s obvious that PSAC members are engaged around this election and will vote. We know a large number of Canadians didn’t vote in 2011. What is the PSAC doing nationally to get the general public out to vote?
Robyn: PSAC’s Vote to Stop the Cuts campaign is designed to get the public to vote. We’ve been working hard to make sure the public sees the campaign. We did a lot of work on the campaign before the election – print ads, social media, radio ads, a video that’s been viewed over 1.5 million times so far on YouTube – and then the writ was dropped. We will continue the campaign, being very careful to stay within the 3rd party limits that the Elections Act gives us. I really think the campaign is resonating with Canadians.
J from Vancouver: I’ve been working with the Vancouver Area Council on our member to member campaign, talking to PSAC members about the importance of voting. We’ve had a really positive response. How are things going in other parts of the province?
Bob: Thanks J! We’re seeing an unprecedented level of activity and engagement across the whole province – on the island, the interior, and the north. Members like yourself are working through their Area Councils in the entire province, getting involved, talking to members and really engaging with our campaign to encourage PSAC members to vote for candidates that support our values. (For information about how to get involved in PSAC’s member to member campaing, and help make a difference in the election – email BraggP@psac.com)
Robyn: Nationally, I’m seeing the same thing. It’s really exciting and gratifying. I’ve been across the country at meetings and local events, and I get email from members. The reports that I’ve been getting are really positive. PSAC members are really engaging around all the outreach we’re doing – the phone banks and membership meetings – and the opportunity to talk to fellow members about the election. Our members see that we’re working collectively, together, to help elect a new government and I think they really appreciate it.
Irene: All our unions are engaging in this same kind work – Labour Councils, HEU, BCGEU, CUPE, the Steelworkers, BCTF, and many more. I really want to thank the PSAC for the work that you’re doing. We’re all in this together, and I know that together we can make a difference.
We polled PSAC members who were on the telephone town hall about their plan to vote.
Here are their responses …
Bob’s comments on voting and voter registration
This is really great to hear! It’s crucially important that all PSAC members vote in the upcoming election – I’ll be voting in advance, by the way. Check to make sure you’ve received your voter registration card, if you haven’t received one by October 1st, you may not be registered to vote. Make sure you’re registered, your family members are registered, and your friends and co-workers are registered and that they all VOTE.