By Doug Nesbitt
It was an unfamiliar site at a Canadian Forces Base, but a dozen Commissionaires staged an info picket at the entrance to CFB Kingston and the Royal Military College on early Monday morning, August 31.
The Commissionaires, with support of a couple PSAC Local 901 members and the local Kingston and Islands NDP candidate Daniel Beals, handed out flyers outlining their struggle with the Corps of Commissionaires for a fair sick leave program. And to drive the point home, they handed motorists their current sick leave plan: a two ounce bottle of hand sanitizer!
“We’re trying to get them to listen to us and hopefully they’ll step up to the table,” explains Richard Deacon, a Commissionaire and president of PSAC Local 818.
“We’re in the middle of conciliation and we’re trying to get the employer to talk our key issues, which is of course sick leave, and they don’t want to talk those issues right now.”
The 82 members of PSAC Local 818 started bargaining with the Kingston Division of Commissionaires in February 2015, but the employer broke off negotiations and filed for conciliation in March. Without a contract since June 2014, the Corps of Commissionaires refuses to engage them on the issue of sick leave, even as most of the workers make around $13/hour. The Corps is a non-profit and has told the Kingston Whig-Standard they can’t afford more benefits. Thousands of Commissionaires work as security guards at federal government buildings and facilities.
The Corps of Commissionaires employs about 20,000 people in Canada and is the largest employer of veterans and claims to be the largest security company in the country. The Corps was first established in Britain to provide employment for veterans when the world was rocked by economic and political turmoil in the post-war 1920s.
“We’re not young guys anymore,” explains Robert Mitchell, one of the older Commissionaires handing out flyers at the RMC entrance. “If they can pay for the office [workers’] sick leave, they can pay us.”
Like most of the local’s 82 members, Robert Mitchell is a veteran. He’s been a Commissionaire for 17 years but in recent years he’s been part of the wave of organizing drives. Before moving to Kingston, he was stationed in Sudbury where he and his colleagues formed a union only a few years ago. Before they were unionized, Mitchell only had two weeks vacation despite more than a decade on the job. Now he has three weeks: a modest but important gain for a young union local. And with the union, he is no longer paying the $300-$400 for a uniform and having the costs clawed back on his paycheque. Sick leave is the next step for Commissionaires in Kingston.
“Our members are mostly an older group,” says Deacon. “We’re retired members from the military and currently we don’t have sick days in our contract, and if you take a day off you gotta take it off without pay.”
Deacon says the Commissionaires of PSAC Local 818 are looking for solidarity and support:
“If other Commissionaires have sick leave, please put the word in to our Corps here in Kingston. Let them know that we deserve the sick days and fight for us. That’s all we ask.”
To contact the Corps of Commissionaires to tell them to bargain a fair contract, please contact Joanne Steacy, Director of Human Resources, Kingston Corps of Commissionaires: firstname.lastname@example.org 613-634-4432
Visit the PSAC Local 818 website.