Federal labour board raises concerns about ‘major irregularities’ in PSAC strike vote

The federal labour relations board raised “significant concerns” about “major irregularities” in the strike vote by 120,000 federal public servants, but has ruled the issues would not have changed the results.

The recent ruling by the board also shows that only 35 per cent of Public Service Alliance of Canada members participated in the strike vote. PSAC workers began strike action on Wednesday, with the strike causing slowdown and disruptions with all government services, including passport and immigration applications, tax returns and new employment insurance applications.

A new ruling issued by the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board shows a federal employee filed a complaint on April 11 asking for the strike vote be declared invalid because the PSAC shortened the voting period by eight days without his knowledge and he was unable to register for mandatory information sessions required in order to vote. April 11 was the final day of voting for PSAC members working with Treasury Board.

“He alleged that the PSAC improperly prevented him from exercising his right to vote,” the document said.

In January, PSAC announced a strike vote would be held between Feb. 22 and April 19 for 120,000 members of four bargaining units. On March 6, the union decided to revise the voting period to end on April 11 to ensure that the vote would be completed before mediated talks with the Treasury Board.

The employee, a member of the PSAC Program and Administrative Services bargaining unit, told the labour board he had received a notice of the strike vote by mail because the union did not have his email address. However, the employee says he had not received notice from PSAC on a change to the voting period.

“Unbeknownst to him, the voting period had been shortened by eight days. When he undertook steps to cast his vote on the last day of the shortened voting period, he was unable to register for a mandatory information session that he was required to attend in order to vote,” the labour board ruling says.

“He was unable to vote and argues that he was not provided with a reasonable opportunity to participate in the strike vote.”

The labour board report says PSAC informed employees in the bargaining units by email about the voting period and information on how to vote. Approximately 15,000 employees received information about the strike vote by mail because the union did not have their email addresses.  

PSAC’s constitution and regulations require an employee attend an information session to be allowed to vote, and the union held more than 100 information sessions online and in-person across Canada. Employees were required to register for the online information session in advance, and space was limited to 5,000 participants in each session.

In its ruling, the Federal Public Labour Relations Board says the “elimination of eight days of voting is significant”, adding it is of “great concern” that PSAC made “no discernible effort to announce its reduction of the voting period” to its members.

The board notes a press release dated January 23 was updated with the new voting dates without any other indication it had been altered, and e-news updates sent by the union did not draw attention to the new close-of-voting date.

“The new voting period was simply embedded in electronic communications that did not expressly announce the highly significant fact that the voting period had changed,” the board said.

The board says the other irregularity in the PSAC strike vote is the “lack of capacity in the information session held on the final day of voting”, with only 5,000 spaces in each session.

“He was prevented from casting his vote because there was no capacity remaining for him to join the online information session, which the respondent set as a requirement before his vote could be cast. That is a serious deficiency in the voting process.”

In the end, the labour board dismissed the application to overturn the results in the strike vote, saying the voting irregularities do not fully explain the low turnout and the support for the strike was high enough that it wouldn’t have changed the results.

“While a changed outcome is not numerically impossible, it is a sufficiently remote possibility that the Board is satisfied that in the current circumstances, the vote result would have been the same even without the irregularities,” the labour board said in its ruling.

“Had either the voter turnout or the margin in favour of the strike been lower, the Board might have decided differently. The irregularities are of significant concern, and with different numbers, they could have resulted in the invalidation of the strike vote.”

In a statement to CTV News, PSAC national president Chris Aylward said the union provided its members “ample opportunity” to vote.

“PSAC gave ample opportunity for members to exercise their right to vote, holding nearly 100 strike vote sessions, both virtually and in-person across the country over the course of a seven-week strike vote period. We also advertised our voting sessions by mail, email, social media, digital ads and by word of mouth,” Aylward said Friday.

“It’s always regrettable when any member of our union believes they didn’t get a fair chance to participate, but clearly tens of thousands of members did.”

35 per cent of PSAC members voted in strike vote

Approximately 35 per cent of the 120,000 members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada cast a ballot in the strike vote, according to the federal labour board ruling.

PSAC announced on April 12 that an “overwhelming” majority of its members voted in favour of a strike action to back demands for a new contract, but didn’t say how many workers voted in strike votes between Feb. 22 and April 11.

A total of 42,421 employees voted in the strike vote, with 80 per cent of those employees supporting strike action.

Of the 14,188 employees in the Program and Administrative Services group who were notified of the strike vote by mail, 2,278 employees voted.

With files from CTV News producer Jordan Gowling

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