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Canadian border officers to strike Friday

The impending strike is referred to as a “job action” by the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the union that, along with the Customs and Immigration Union, represents more than 9,000 Canada Border Service Agency employees. The strike comes just three days before the country is set to allow American leisure travelers across the border for the first time in nearly a year and a half.

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U.S. and Canadian flags flutter at the Canada-United States border crossing at the Thousand Islands Bridge, which remains closed to non-essential traffic to combat the spread of the coronavirus in Lansdowne, Ontario, Canada, Sept. 28, 2020. REUTERS/Lars Hagberg/File Photo
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GRAND FORKS -- Vaccinated American travelers anxious to pay a visit to Canada could see lengthy delays at border crossings, as Canadian border officials are set to strike beginning Friday, Aug. 6.

The impending strike is referred to as a “job action” by the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the union that, along with the Customs and Immigration Union, represents more than 9,000 Canada Border Service Agency employees. The strike comes just three days before the country is set to allow American leisure travelers across the border for the first time in nearly 18 months. BSA and CIU workers are striking after talks stalled on hammering out a new contract.

“We truly hoped we wouldn’t be forced to take strike action, but we’ve exhausted every other avenue to reach a fair contract with the government,” said Chris Aylward, PSAC national president. “Treasury Board and CBSA have been clear they aren’t prepared to address critical workplace issues at CBSA at the bargaining table.”

Canadian border workers are seeking a new contract that includes better protections against what they claim is a toxic workplace culture at CBSA, and greater parity with other law enforcement agencies across Canada, among other demands.

The Canadian border has been closed to nonessential traffic since March 2020, and is set to open at 12:01 a.m. on Monday, Aug. 9.

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A strike doesn’t necessarily mean that border traffic will come to a complete stop. According to a CTV report Tuesday, many people who staff border crossings could be deemed essential workers, which means border operations may slow without stopping entirely. The report indicates border workers are aware they may need to continue working, though one official said they would only do their jobs to the “letter of the law.”

The situation remains the same for those wishing to fly to Canada. According to an Tuesday release from the PSAC, strike activity will take place at all Canadian airports, land borders, commercial shipping ports, postal facilities and headquarters locations. The slowdown in work and clearing shipments, PSAC said, could have a dramatic impact on Canada’s supply chain and the government’s plans to reopen the border to U.S. travelers.

“We’ve continued to serve Canadians throughout the pandemic, keeping our borders safe, screening travelers for COVID-19 and clearing vital vaccine shipments,” said Mark Weber, CIU national president. “Now it’s time for the government to step up for CBSA employees.”

The unions declared an impasse in talks in December, and then applied for a Public Interest Commission hearing after CBSA and Canada’s Treasury Board did not address core contract issues. The two parties were set to return to the negotiating table Wednesday, but unless a deal can be reached, the strike, also called a “work-to-rule action,” will begin at 5 a.m. Friday.

In addition to strike concerns and lengthy border waits, American travelers need to provide border officials with a negative molecular COVID-19 test, taken within three days of arrival. Travelers also need to provide proof of being vaccinated against the coronavirus, and must upload their information into the ArriveCAN smartphone application or website, prior to arrival.

Adam Kurtz is the community editor for the Grand Forks Herald. He covers higher education and other topics in Grand Forks County and the city.

Kurtz joined the Herald in July 2019. He covered business and county government topics before covering higher education and some military topics.

Tips and story ideas are welcome. Get in touch with him at akurtz@gfherald.com, or DM at @ByAdamKurtz.

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