Parliament Hill’s security screeners are ramping up protests against their bosses as their frustration grows over the glacial pace of negotiations toward reaching a new contract, with the most recent one expiring nearly four years ago.
Unionized security screeners, who belong to the Public Service Alliance of Canada, rallied outside the Confederation Building on Oct. 4, wearing buttons and holding signs bearing the slogan “Security Matters.” Over the past month, these scanners, who are officially called “detection specialists,” have also worn buttons, wristbands, and stickers with the same slogan in an effort to push their employer back to the bargaining table.
“If parliamentary services and this entire precinct are so important, then why the heck hasn’t there been a collective agreement to date?” Kevin King, national president of the Union of National Employees, which represents the detection specialists, told The Hill Times. His union is one of the 15 that make up PSAC.
“Having these people, who are protecting Parliamentarians and dignitaries coming to the Hill, without a contract for such a long period of time, is rather disingenuous.”
Detection officers, also known as scanners, are the security personnel most politicians, staffers, and visitors first encounter when entering buildings inside Ottawa’s Parliamentary Precinct. The officers are tasked with screening individuals and their belongings when they enter buildings like Centre Block, and go past a checkpoint of metal detectors and X-ray scanners.
PSAC represents about 125 detection specialists and their supervisors in the Parliamentary Precinct. The number of detection personnel grew from 46 employees before the 2014 Parliament Hill shooting, in which gunman Michael Zehaf-Bibeau made it through security at the Centre Block entrance and as far as the doors to the Library of Parliament before being killed in a hail of gunfire.
The last agreement with the detection specialists expired in March 2014, with few formal talks on a new deal.
No collective bargaining meetings between PSAC and the House of Commons occurred since the first half of 2015. The House was the employer of the scanners until the Parliamentary Protective Service was formed in June 2015. PPS is now responsible for security on the Hill and in the Parliamentary Precinct, bringing together the former Senate and House of Commons Protection Services and the RCMP’s Parliament Hill Security Unit.
The freeze in talks is because of disagreements between PSAC and PPS over the structure of the bargaining unit. As previously reported by The Hill Times, PPS filed a request with the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board in November 2015, seeking to consolidate three different bargaining units representing detection specialists and House and Senate security personnel into a single body with which the agency can negotiate contracts.
In a September 2015 letter, PPS told PSAC it wouldn’t engage in collective bargaining until the structure of the bargaining unit was determined by the labour board. Hearings are finally set to occur from Nov. 1 to 3, prompting PSAC to mobilize its members into new protests.
Greg McGillis, regional executive vice-president of PSAC, said the security scanners have become increasingly frustrated with PPS because of the lack of active contract talks.
He said there is a growing set of issues surrounding pay, health and safety, and scheduling that need to be addressed in a fresh round of collective bargaining.
“They’ve refused to come to the table at all. The frustration being that there are a lot of issues that need to be addressed,” Mr. McGillis said.
“I would say that it’s a really tense and unfortunate situation. Certainly, nobody’s happy about this.”
He said that the next step for detection specialists is to rally support from other unions and increase visibility in hopes of securing new talks.
Talks sidelined by disagreement over merging bargaining units
The request by PPS to the labour board sought the merger of the scanners’ bargaining unit with the Security Services Employees Association (SSEA), representing House security officers, and the Senate Protective Service Employees Association (SPSEA), representing Senate security personnel.
Melissa Rusk, executive officer to the director of PPS, said that a single employee association and collective bargaining agreement is “necessary” to ensure that PPS can “effectively and efficiently deliver on its operational mandate throughout the Parliamentary Precinct.”
SSEA and SPSEA agreed to form one collective bargaining unit, but did not support consolidating with the scanners’ unit.
PSAC agreed with the other unions that the specialists should remain in their own bargaining unit, arguing the interests and issues scanners face are too different from House and Senate security officers.
Ms. Rusk said PPS’s lawyers advised against moving on contract talks until the labour board ruled.
PPS, she said, would be still be open to non-collective bargaining meetings, such as ones in which the union can meet with PPS’ director or labour relations executives.
Since the summer, PPS has been in talks with the union about pre-bargaining discussions, with the hope that some of their pressing issues could be addressed, Ms. Rusk said.
“PPS continues to respect the terms of the existing collective bargaining agreements,” she added, referring to those that have expired.
Mr. King said the scheduling of shifts has been a major grievance for union members that needs to be addressed in the next round of contract talks. Currently, management informs employees of their work schedule no more than two weeks ahead of time, he said.
In response, PSAC has filed an unfair labour practice complaint, alleging PPS violated the law by “unilaterally introducing new work schedules without the union’s consent.” As part of the collective agreement, which remains legally enforceable despite expiring, the union must be consulted before any changes to scheduling.
The complaint alleges that PPS made changes to the scheduling of shifts, despite repeated complaints from PSAC members. Notably, PPS did not meet with PSAC when developing new schedules for Canada Day and Canada 150 celebrations.
“The schedule is unpredictable,” Mr. McGillis said. “Our members never know their schedule more than two weeks ahead of time, sometimes even less. It’s very hard for our members to organize their life.”
Ms. Rusk said PPS abides by the last collective agreement, which states that the work schedule must be posted 15 days in advance and that the employer “shall schedule hours of work to meet operational requirements.”
“Any employee who feels the employer did not abide by this clause can contact a supervisor for verification. If they remain unsatisfied with the explanation, they have a right to the grievance process,” she said.
Another issue is pay. The last time the detection specialists received a negotiated pay increase was in April 2013, Mr. McGillis said. When PSAC met with the employer in early 2015, collective bargaining talks dissolved following disagreements on pay and scheduling.
“It’s really the cost-of-living aspect that is absolutely rolled up with this,” Mr. McGillis said. “It’s not that hard to see where inflation’s been the last three years.”
However, after PPS was established and the security screeners’ salary positions reclassified in the shakeup in July 2015, their salary range increased from $38,878-$49,193 to $43,177-$54,632, according to Ms. Rusk.
Mr. McGillis also said there are a number of health and safety concerns the union would like to address with PPS, singling out the risk members face of being potentially exposed to radiation due to their work with metal detectors and X-ray machines.
“The way rooms are set up can increase exposure to unnecessary levels of radiation,” said Mr. McGillis, adding that there is no health and safety statute protection for detection specialists.
The Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act, passed in 1986, governs employees of the Senate, the House of Commons, MPs, the Library of Parliament, and now PPS workers. Although the act has three parts to it, only the first part focusing on bargaining rights ever went into effect, leaving out rules on working conditions and health and safety.
Instead, collective bargaining agreements dictate labour matters relating to the two parts that didn’t come into force in the 1986 law. Canadian workers, generally, are protected under the Canada Labour Code and a patchwork of provincial and local laws.
Mr. McGillis also called for new protections to limit the risk scanners face from violent attacks, as they are often the first point of contact for guests.
He said issues surrounding front-line protection have become a growing concern since the 2014 Hill shooting, and contract talks must “ensure that our members are protected in the case of something like that.”
The Hill Times