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Ottawa public servants hit the picket line for Day 1 of general strike

Thousands of Ottawa public servants were out in full force on Wednesday for the first day of a strike by members of Canada's largest public service union.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada has set up picketing in nine locations across Ottawa and Gatineau after members walked off the job at 12:01 a.m.

Public servants turned up in numbers at several spots across the city to demonstrate as part of what the union is calling one of the largest strikes in Canadian history.

"This is very much a national strike," said Alex Silas, PSAC's regional executive vice-president for the national capital region. "This is the largest bargaining group in the country.

"We are fighting to set a standard in the federal public service and to set a standard for all workers."

At Tunney's Pasture, hundreds of public servants picketed outside the LRT station there. A sizeable crowd also gathered on Parliament Hill, with NDP leader Jagmeet Singh joining strikers there.

@ctvnewsottawa Public servants picket at Tunney's Pasture on Day 1 of a Canada-wide strike. #ottawa #strike #psac #ontario #canada #fyp ♬ original sound - ctvnewsottawa

Shenfield Excellent was one of the hundreds on the picket line at Tunney’s Pasture Wednesday.

“Right now I’m hybrid; prior to that I was in the call centre… those that work in the call centre were able to work for home,” said the father of four.

Excellent has been a public servant for two years, driving from Kanata to Gatineau two days a week.

Parking, daycare and gas all costing him money he wasn't spending during the pandemic. Remote work is a key issue for him.

“We’re able to do the work. The work is being done. If we can do it from home, then why not?” he said.

“I'm living in Prescott and it's an hour-plus driving here,” said Jana Ginelle, who joined the picket line at Tunney’s Pasture. She too would prefer to continue working from home. “It's a distance. It's not a good use of my time to be in the office.”

Treasury Board President Mona Fortier has insisted for months that the employer sets the place of work. The union wants it to be negotiated at the table.

“We need to have stronger language in our contract to accommodate this new way of living and working,” said Miriam Irwin.

Those on strike are making $75 a day in strike pay. These workers say it's worth coming to the picket line every day to win a concession on remote work.   

There was also a large presence outside Fortier's constituency office on Montreal Road. Fortier is the member of Parliament for Ottawa-Vanier.

PSAC also set up a picket line outside Canada Post's headquarters on Heron Road, although Canada Post employees aren't part of the strike.

Ottawa police said the demonstrations created congestion during the morning rush hour at Tunney's Pasture, outside Fortier's office on Montreal Road and at Centrum Boulevard in Orleans.

Police asked commuters to consider alternate routes to avoid traffic delays in those areas.  

"Ottawa/Gatineau commuters who travel these routes are asked to be patient, continue to obey all traffic laws, and consider an alternative route when possible," they said in a news release.

Public servants rallying at Tunney's Pasture made it clear that remote work is an important issue for them at the bargaining table.

"There is no telework agreement right now," said Patricia Kurdyla, who works from home five days a week due to an accommodation. "We want a telework agreement, and that’s what we're looking for."

PSAC is demanding that language on remote work be included in collective agreements. Treasury Board has said location of work is up to the employer.

Jana Ginelle, who lives in Prescott, Ont., says it takes her more than an hour to drive to work.

"It's not a good use of my time to go to the office," she said. "I don't find it's effective to come to work every day to be here physically. If I’m having a meeting with my boss, she is here on different days and I'll have my meeting by Teams. To me, it's not the best use of my time."

"If you can work efficiently from home. I don't see any reason why you shouldn't be able to continue to," added public servant Brittney Pulcine, adding that striking was worth it to achieve some certainty about remote work.

"However long this takes for them to reach a fair agreement, if I just need to come for this temporary time to be able to, in the long run, be able to stay from home and be there, it's definitely worth it."

Wages are a key sticking point as well. Jessica McConnell brought her two children to the picket line because their school bus got cancelled.

"Today was my regular in-office day, so coming down here to fight for our fair wage was just like coming to work," she said.

PSAC is requiring members to picket for four hours a day in order to receive strike pay. Members must scan a barcode to prove they showed up to the picket line.

Negotiations are expected to continue despite thousands of PSAC members walking off the job.

The bargaining groups involve some 155,000 federal public servants, including 35,000 Canada Revenue Agency workers.

PSAC's national president Chris Aylward said Wednesday that 97,000 workers are on strike nationwide.A PSAC worker holds a flag on a picket line in Ottawa, Wednesday, April 19, 2023. Canada's largest federal public-service union says that some 155,000 workers are on strike across the country after talks with the government failed to produce an agreement before a Tuesday night deadline. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Federal ministers provided an update on the Public Service Alliance of Canada's strike action in a news conference on Wednesday afternoon.

"We will continue to work with the PSAC to reach agreements that are fair and competitive, but we cannot do that unless the union is prepared to compromise. We cannot write a blank check," Treasury Board President Mona Fortier said.

A late Tuesday news release from the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat says the government and the Public Service Alliance of Canada are still at odds when it comes to key contract issues for both sides.

There are 250 picketing locations across the country.

- with files from Natalie van Rooy, Jackie Perez and The Canadian Press Top Stories

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