Nearly 500 civilian employees at military bases in Ontario and Quebec are on the picket line Monday, their union says, after negotiations with their employer broke down last week.
The strike affects workers at the Petawawa, Kingston, Valcartier, Montreal St-Jean, and Bagotville bases — along with other employees whose jobs are in Ottawa — who deliver programs through Canadian Forces Morale and Welfare Services (CFMWS).
According to the Union Of National Defence Employees, they offer numerous supportive roles for Canada's military members, both on and off base. They work in fields like food service and recreation, along with offering support services like financial planning and help with life and disability insurance.
In Ontario, roughly 140 workers at CFB Kingston and another 140 at CFB Petawawa will be on strike Monday, the union said, along with about 70 employees in the nation's capital.
"It's absolutely critical [work]," said June Winger, national president for the union, which is a component of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC).
"The military have their own family and their own way of life, really, on these bases. And without [those employees] there to help them with that, there is no way that they could actually function."
June Winger, president of the Union of National Defence Employees, says the pay discrepancies between the civilian base workers and other members of the federal public service doing similar work don't make sense. (CBC News)
Wages main issue, says union
The staff involved in the strike are with the Non-Public Funds (NPF) group, which runs CFMWS.
It's a separate agency from the Department of National Defence. While their workers are considered part of the federal public service, the union says they're not covered under the Public Service Employment Act and are paid different wages that someone else in the public service doing a similar job.
In a press release, the union said it was pushing for an "equitable national pay scale," noting there are large wage discrepancies for workers doing the same job across the country.
For example, NPF shipping and receiving clerks at CFB Petawawa make $17.19 an hour, less than one dollar above minimum wage and 54 per cent less than "public service workers doing comparable work in the core public service," that press release said.
"It just doesn't make any sense," said Winger.
"We don't do that for any of the national defence employees and we certainly don't do that to any of our Canadian Armed Forces members. I don't know why they think that this is reasonable to do this with our lowest-paid public servants in Canada."
Employer seeking 'swift and positive outcome'
Picket lines will be set up Monday in public areas in front of the bases and offices where workers are on strike, the union said.
In a statement to CBC, CFMWS said it regrets they couldn't reach a deal with the union.
"We remain open to further negotiations to reach an agreement as required and we remain committed to a swift and positive outcome for all parties involved," said Ian Poulter, the CEO for CFMWS.
"We are steadfast in our commitment to our Canadian Armed Forces communities and hope to mitigate any disruptions to services as much as possible."
Poulter's statement also said CFMWS was prepared for strike action and that services "will continue to be available through contingency plans where applicable".
The CFMWS has not clarified who exactly would be doing that contingency work, although a media representative said they would look into it.
The union is also alleging CFMWS chose not to support PSAC in continuing workers' benefits while they're on strike, including maternity leave top-ups — a normal practice in the core public service, Winger said.
"This is such a shameful position for government to take on their own members when they're talking about having health-care benefits for everybody across the country," she said.
"They're removing them from their own employees. It's disgusting."
CFMWS did not answer CBC's questions regarding employees' benefits during the strike.