A Wednesday morning demonstration by striking military base workers led to the arrest of a Canadian Public Services Alliance union leader.
Alex Silas, PSAC’s regional executive vice-president for the National Capital Region, was arrested by police shortly after 10:30 a.m. when non-public fund workers blocked Star Top Road, near Innes Road in Ottawa’s east end. . Outside a National Defense building, union members chanted and waved flags as they demanded a fair contract.
The arrest came as 215 protesters blocked the street to traffic, many of them chanting and honking horns. Silas chanted “solidarity” when he was arrested.
An Ottawa Police Service spokesperson said only that one person had been arrested at approximately 10:40 a.m. and that the investigation was ongoing, but the PSAC National Capital Region branch posted on the social media platform Reddit late this afternoon that “Alex is facing criminal charges and is currently being held at 474 Elgin; he has legal representation and the support of union leaders across the country.”
Shortly after, another post on social media X, formerly Twitter, from the organization Horizon Ottawa showed that Silas had been released and was part of a demonstration in front of police headquarters.
Nearly 500 non-publicly funded workers in Bagotville, Kingston, Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Petawawa, Valcartier and Ottawa began striking in January, demanding better wages, a national wage network for workers across Canada and better safety labor. Members first met on picket lines on January 15 after PSAC announced the previous week that a strike would take place if an agreement on a new contract was not reached.
By providing morale and welfare services on military bases, non-public fund workers are part of the federal public service and are employees of the Canadian Forces Morale and Welfare Services, a separate agency. According to the Government of Canada website, the CFMWS operates on behalf of the Chief of the Defense Staff and under the authority of the Minister of Defence. As the staff are not employees of the National Defense or the Treasury Board, they have their own pension system, salaries and collective agreements.
They are represented by the PSAC and its component, the National Defense Employees Union, which has 18,000 members from the public and private sectors in the Department of National Defense, including almost 500 striking NPF workers.
Five union executives, including Silas, were expected to hold a news conference outside the Joint Intelligence Operations Center at 1600 Star Top Rd. on Wednesday morning, although the event was canceled after his arrest. PSAC said 215 striking workers from bases in Ontario and Quebec had been bussed to Ottawa for the event.
As a police cruiser began to drive away with Silas in the back seat, striking workers shouted “Shame” and then surrounded and blocked the vehicle while honking horns and chanting “Free Alex.”
About an hour later, after stopping in a parking lot, the vehicle drove away.
Larry Rousseau, executive vice-president of the Canadian Labor Congress and former PSAC executive, said Silas’ arrest was “egregious” and “disturbing.”
“Arresting union leaders on picket lines really sends a bad message,” Rousseau said, adding that the event had been planned and did not take place on a major traffic artery. “I am very disappointed that the Ottawa Police Service is sending this message. “I thought one of the jobs of the liaison officers and the officers themselves was to de-escalate situations, and this… this escalated unnecessarily.”
UNDE Vice President of Non-Public Funds Cathy O’Kane said the group initially picketed on Labelle Street on Wednesday morning before moving to Star Top Road.
“The next thing we knew, they put our executive vice president for the NCR region in the back of a police car, so here we are,” O’Kane said.
O’Kane said police presence at protests had been “tough” over the past few weeks, especially in Valcartier, Que., and video shows her being shoved by police. He said the employer had also been sending members of his management team to picket lines in hopes of intimidating members.
“Actually, when they try to intimidate us, they have the opposite effect,” O’Kane said. “We are already at the bottom. We are already in poverty. There’s nowhere else to go but up.”
Since the parties were last at the table on Jan. 11, O’Kane said no progress had been made in the negotiation as the employer had submitted what she called a “lowball” offer. She added that bargaining dates for four locations that were not currently on strike were also cancelled.
“I think right now they’re just trying to wait us out,” O’Kane said. “We need to be here one more day than them.”
Ian Poulter, chief executive of CFMWS, said the agency “regrets that no agreement has been reached” and “remains open to future negotiations.”
“We are steadfast in our commitment to our Canadian Armed Forces communities and hope to mitigate any disruption to services as much as possible during this time,” Poulter wrote in an email.
With an average wage of around $18 to $20 an hour, O’Kane said NPF workers planned to continue escalating strike action, with another event likely to take place in Ottawa next week.
“We have to intensify the strike because it’s been four weeks since these people have been on strike,” O’Kane said, adding that members received $75 a day in strike pay as long as they were on the picket line for four hours. “Some of them don’t care because they make more money on strike than they do at their own jobs.
“We have people who work two jobs, we have people who have to go to food banks, we have single parents who are struggling. I myself have been with this employer for 34 years. My daughter and I lived with my parents in the basement of his house. “That’s the only way we can survive and do this job.”
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