Building a Modern Union – Part V: Unite or die!
Three years after its expulsion from the Civil Service Federation (CSF), the Civil Service Association of Ottawa (CSAO) and the Amalgamated Civil Servants of Canada (ACSC) merged giving it a united voice to 25,000 members in a new organization called the Civil Service Association of Canada (CSAC). The merger meant membership from any department and in any part of the country was in one association. Yet despite now having two major associations active, it was estimated that some 70,000 workers in the government where still not members of either group. Much work remained to be accomplished before a strong united voice would represent federal workers.
By 1960 workers in many communities had formed “Joint Action Committees” as a way for the two associations to work together on issues of common concern. They quickly started to push the issue of unity at the top. And at the national level, leadership was responding to the pressure by establishing a Presidents Council to explore what unity could look like.
If unity and collective bargaining was ever needed it was to deal with arbitrary governments. In 1962 the Government declared an “Emergency” and suddenly salaries were frozen. Then it played Santa in December by offering retroactivity. Frustration with the government and the leadership that had difficulty speaking with one strong voice was very evident. However, though this period, personal dislikes in leadership was always a barrier to unity. The government was soon going to make them face each other or both organizations would come to a quick end.
Lester Pearson had become the new Prime Minister defeating the Conservatives under Diefenbaker. He appointed a nine-person committee to study what a collective bargaining procedure in the Federal Government could look like. If the various associations did not start looking for a solution to their differences the government could do it for them.
In 1964 unity talks between the Canadian Marine National Employees Association and the Canadian Air Service Association began. The Leadership of some of the CSF members may have been cool to unity but the employees in the Department of Transport were looking to become stronger. Both associations also took leadership roles in the CSF. In 1965 C.B. Christensen, of the Canadian Air Services Association, was elected Treasurer. Then Bob Armstrong, Secretary of the Marine National Employees Association, became the chair of the President’s Conference on unity.
On May 15, 1965, a proposed constitution and merger agreement was published. By the end of June, eight of the CSF affiliates had approved the merger at their conventions including the Canadian Marine National Employees Association and the Canadian Air Service Association.
While the CSF affiliates and the CSAC were working out the shape of a new union in July 1965, a strike by postal workers took place. It was one of the largest Canadian wildcat strikes and the largest involving government employees. It took place while the government was studying what regulations and laws they would enact to give union rights to public sector workers. It came at a key time for the formation of unions in the federal government as it indicated that federal employees had enough with delays.
The CSF convention the following month responded to the strike by adopting a position in opposition to strikes in the federal government. While a few associations tried to stop the merger process they were on the losing side of a 50-year battle. The merger with the CSAC and creation of a new union was approved.
In April 1966, the Pearson government presented Bill C-170 to the House providing collective bargaining with the right to strike. Classifications would be government wide for bargaining which meant that if unity did not happen, no one association would have enough members to make an application to the Public Service Staff Relations Board as the bargaining agent.
The pressure to form a new union was not just coming from the rank-and-file, the law was now doing it, and then there was fear of other unions taking action to organize federal employees. There were rumours that the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) was looking to organize in the federal government. CUPE was formed in 1963 through merging the National Union of Public Employees (NUPE) and the National Union of Public Service Employees (NUPSE). It was in an ideal situation if they wanted to expand.
The Canadian Union of Postal Workers fresh from their walkout called both the CSF and CSAC management orientated and welcomed all federal employees to seek unity under the CUPW banner. The CSF and CSAC would have to act or become extinct.
The Canadian Marine National Employees Association had about 2,200 members drawn mostly from the Department of Transport, but also crews of vessels operated by other departments. The Canadian Air Service Association had about 7,775 members for a total membership of close to 10,000 when they came together forming the Department of Transport Component (DTC).
DTC was one of the 5 founding components that met prior to the Nov 9th merger convention and our President sat on the provisional National Board of Directors of the new union. Of the four possible names for this new union that were being considered, the convention decided it would be called the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC). The 80,000 members of the CSF affiliated associations and the 25,000 members of the CSAC were now united completing a vision that began in 1909. The DTC was the fifth largest component at the convention.
On March 13, 1967, Parliament passed 3 bills, C170, C181, and C182 finally establishing the right of Federal Public employees to form unions and to bargain collectively. The PSAC applied the following month to become the bargaining agent for 8 groups. But as soon as it did the Confederation of National Trade Unions, (CNTU), based in Quebec, filed a challenge with the PSSRB. It argued that the PSAC was not an employee association under the meaning of the act, the units had never been PSAC members, the PSAC officers had no authority to act on behalf of the employees, and that the PSAC was a federation of separate groups not a union. The board ruled that those at the founding convention of the PSAC were employees of the federal government as defined under the act and were therefore a union under the act.
The PSAC had over come its first challenge and continued to organize. Now it was having members sign union cards, one with the PSAC name on them. In August, the PSSRB certified Firefighters (FR) and Lightkeepers (LI) as two of the first classifications to have chosen the PSAC as their bargaining agent. Both had a long history in building the precursor associations that helped in founding the PSAC and UCTE.
Much has been made of the divisions that linger in the union that echo from the two founding organizations, the Civil Service Federation and Civil Service Association of Canada. What is clear is that employees at the Department of Transport were active in all the various associations over the years. For more than 50 years they helped build the organizations that created the PSAC. Now the PSAC and UCTE are over 50 years old. We have been involved for more than a century in union building – protecting our members and their families, on the job and in their communities. And we look forward to the next 100.