PARLIAMENT HILL—House security officers have resumed protest actions amid an escalating labour stand between the officers’ union and the Parliamentary Protective Service, with the union last week filing dozens of grievances over what it’s deemed a “cocktail of intimidation, threats and disinformation” from the employer.
“The agreement that we signed in order for us to stop our [protest] actions in June—which was by the way just a couple of days before July 1st, that was a big deal for them [the employer]—it was [meant to be] a good faith mediation during the summer in regards to our current grievances,” said Roch Lapensée, president of the House of Commons security officers’ union, the Security Services Employees Association (SSEA).
“Our position is the employer sat down with no good faith, there was no good faith at the table, so we believe it was only a tactic to waste time,” he said.
SSEA members first began protest actions five months ago on May 1, after the employer—management of the Parliamentary Protective Service (PPS)—declined to go to the bargaining table to negotiate a new collective agreement. The old one expired on March 31; it remains in effect until a new one is reached.
The employer, citing legal advice, has declined to go to the table until the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board rules on an application from PPS seeking a decision on whether it can merge the three unions currently under PPS’s purview into one bargaining unit. Those unions are the SSEA, the Senate Protective Service Employees Association (SPSEA), and the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), the union to which detection specialists on the Hill—the officers responsible for security screening of visitors—belong.
Mr. Lapensée has indicated that while the SSEA would be fine with merging with the SPSEA, because Senate officers do similar work, his union is against merging with PSAC.
PPS filed its application with the labour board in November 2015, not long after security on the Hill was integrated into one force under the PPS—whose head is a member of the RCMP, currently Chief Supt. Jane MacLatchy—following the October 2014 shooting on the Hill.
Hearings on this application have finally been scheduled for Nov. 1 to Nov. 3.
However, Mr. Lapensée said that will likely still mean “months and months, and maybe years, before we get even an answer on that.”
In an effort to push the employer to go to the table to address the union’s ongoing labour grievances, officers first wore navy baseball caps, normally used for training, and navy stickers calling for “respect.” That escalated to lime green baseball hats and stickers, with officers later donning jeans as part of their protest actions.
At the end of June, as previously reported by The Hill Times, the SSEA and PPS reached an agreement to cease protest actions and begin discussions to try to deal with some of the union’s ongoing grievances.
Overall, those grievances include issues around overtime hours, not having paid lunch hours, concerns over a new security clearance process, and a call for pay parity for House officers who are paid less than their RCMP counterparts.
According to rates of pay effective April 1, 2016, House security officers at the constable level make between $50,249 and $63,581; at the corporal level make between $56,088 and $70,969; and at the sergeant level make between $62,135 and $78,620. By comparison, as of April 1, 2016, RCMP members at the constable level make between $53,144 and $86,110; at the corporal level make between $90,842 and $94,292; and at the sergeant level make between $99,790 and $102,775.
In response to emailed questions from The Hill Times, Melissa Rusk, executive officer to the director of the PPS, indicated that the SSEA and the PPS held mediation talks over three days in August, but that “despite efforts made by all parties, the mediation was unsuccessful.”
“The PPS voiced its continued commitment to mediation and to the successful resolution, where possible of grievances prior to them escalating to the adjudication phase,” said Ms. Rusk.
However, Mr. Lapensée said he believes the employer did not go to the table to negotiate in good faith, highlighting the then impending Canada Day celebrations, and his trust is now shaken.
“The trust level is so low right now, even if the employer would call me back tomorrow and say we would like to resume mediation, I don’t think I can trust them,” said Mr. Lapensée in an interview Sept. 28.
“The members are really, really, really frustrated for one big reason: they believe that the employer—once we signed that agreement in June to stop our action and go back in full uniform—that the employer would be honest and respect the agreement,” he said.
House officers started once again donning lime green ‘respect’ baseball caps, along with new matching green ‘respect’ wristbands, last week, after a vote in favour of resuming actions at a Sept. 21 special general meeting of SSEA members.
But on Sept. 23, after the employer was notified of plans to resume protest actions, the union says the PPS sent a communication to its members indicating that “any job action would be a clear violation” of the June agreement and “will leave the employer no choice but to apply proper legal measures, including appropriate administrative or disciplinary measures to ensure safety, security, and order for our clients and in the work place,” as quoted in a letter from SSEA lawyers to the PPS director, Ms. MacLatchy, on Sept. 26.
The main intent of that letter from SSEA lawyers was to request PPS “immediately cease any obstruction or intimidation of SSEA or its members,” and cancel verbal disciplinary measures that have been undertaken, among other things.
“The [PPS] used a cocktail of intimidation, threats, and disinformation toward SSEA members who were carrying out these means of expression,” read the letter.
Mr. Lapensée said starting on Sept. 25, four PPS superintendents were waiting outside the dressing room to approach officers as they came into work to warn them against resuming protest actions.
“They actually stood, all four of them together, waiting for every single member that would show up. So that’s an intimidating tactic, which is totally unacceptable,” he said.
Mr. Lapensée said, despite the Sept. 26 letter to the PPS from the SSEA’s lawyers, “it’s still happening.”
“They’re actually going to the posts now … where the officers are working on posts and giving them reprimands, on post while they’re working, putting the safety of Parliamentarians at risk,” said Mr. Lapensée.
He said the PPS is issuing “verbal reprimands” to officers donning the green hats and wristbands, which goes “on their personal file for two years.”
“If they keep on wearing the baseball cap, then they’re get a written notice for an additional reprimand,” said Mr. Lapensée, adding to his understanding they’ve issued reprimands to “everyone that they’ve met” but that as of Sept. 28, there were “still more people to meet.”
He said he’s filing separate grievances with the labour board over “every single one” of these verbal reprimands, with between 140 and 150 in the works as of late last week. Despite these reprimands, he said “everybody stands together” and no one has stopped wearing the hats. The SSEA has roughly 225 members.
“I’m still compiling others as members come and see me every five or ten minutes,” he said, noting earlier that his “phone hasn’t stopped ringing.”
In response to questions about these actions, Ms. Rusk said, the “PPS has the right, as any employer does, to manage [and] communicate with its employees and to express work standards and expectations, and does so in a respectful manner that is in line with standard labour practices and policies.”
Meanwhile, Senate officers now find themselves in a similar position as House officers did last spring after their collective agreement expired on Sept. 30.
SPSEA president Brian Faust said he hasn’t received an official response from PPS to a notice to negotiate a new collective agreement filed on Aug. 1.
“We already know the PPS’ position is that they are waiting for a decision from the [labour relations] board on whether we should be one union … the problem with that is that decision could take potentially years,” he said.
After that, there could still be decisions on how to organize the future bargaining unit or units before negotiations on a new collective agreement would even begin, which itself could take years, said Mr. Faust.
“In previous negotiations when there’s no issues it takes maybe a year, a year-and-a-half to solve, but this is going to be a contentious one because there’s going to be salaries on the table,” he said.
“Our legal advice has been that the employer should still negotiate with the three unions, even while they’re waiting for that decision [from the labour board] … if you sit down with each union now we can solve a lot of problems before we get to the actual formal negotiations and it’ll go a lot quicker.”
Mr. Faust said his union supports what SSEA is doing but said SPSEA members “will have our discussion on if and when” they’ll undertake any sort of similar protest actions going forward. The union has roughly 110 members.
“There’s some animosity starting to build but we’re trying to work through that and make this a working partnership as much as possible,” he said.
NDP MPs and staff on the Hill, including outgoing leader Tom Mulcair (Outremont, Que.), similarly started donning the lime green ‘Respect’ wristbands last week in solidarity with officers.
NDP staffers working in MP Hill and constituency officers, caucus research bureau, House officers’ staffers are unionized—local 232 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. There are between 250 and 300 members in the NDP staff union overall.
Nasha Brownridge, president of UFCW local 232 and a media logistics officer for the NDP caucus, said union staffers have been handing out the wristbands as they come in in batches from the SSEA, which is producing them. So far, more than 50 have been handed out, including to roughly half the party’s 44-member caucus and to at least 30 staffers.
“We have many staff who still want one,” she said.
“Their job is so incredibly important to us. We’ve had incidents and they’ve always been there, and they’re incredibly professional. They ensure that we can do our jobs every single day and they have the right to a fair negotiation and to a fair contract. …We’re here to support them where we can,” said Ms. Brownridge.
The Hill Times