Potential CBSA Strike Could Disrupt Summer Travel

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Possible CBSA Strike Could Lead to Major Border Delays – Here’s What You Need to Know

With the summer travel season kicking into high gear, Canadians and visitors might soon face long waits at the border. This isn't just an inconvenience; it could have significant economic impacts. The cause? A potential strike by workers at the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) looming on the horizon.

The Situation

Over 9,000 members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) working for CBSA, including border guards, have voted in favor of a strike mandate. Negotiations are ongoing, with mediation set to begin on June 3, and the union could initiate a strike as early as June 6.

What’s at Stake?

A similar action three years ago nearly brought commercial cross-border traffic to a halt, causing major delays at airports and borders across the country. However, the Treasury Board points out that 90% of front-line border officers are considered essential, meaning they cannot strike. So, how much disruption can we really expect?

Potential Disruptions

While these essential workers can’t strike, they might resort to a tactic known as "work-to-rule," where employees strictly adhere to their job descriptions. Ian Lee, an associate professor at Carleton University’s School of Business, suggests this could significantly slow down border crossings, affecting not just tourists but also the economy. Every day, goods worth $2.5 billion cross the border, so even minor delays could have major repercussions.

The Treasury Board insists that essential service employees must provide uninterrupted services, and any intentional slowdowns will be disciplined. However, Lee notes that border workers have considerable discretion in how they perform their duties, raising questions about how the government can enforce these rules.

The Impact of Work-to-Rule

Stephanie Ross, an associate professor of labor studies at McMaster University, explains that work-to-rule involves employees performing their duties exactly as described in their contracts. This thoroughness can lead to significant delays. For example, if each border crossing takes an additional 10 minutes due to meticulous checks, the cumulative effect could be substantial, given the volume of traffic.

What Do CBSA Employees Want?

Mark Weber, the national president of the Customs and Immigration Union, a part of PSAC, indicates that the union is not yet committed to work-to-rule. However, they are pushing for several demands, including pay parity with other law enforcement agencies, filling thousands of vacant positions with permanent employees, better pension benefits, and protections against what they describe as "heavy-handed discipline."

Another issue is the increasing reliance on technology at borders, such as kiosks at airports. Weber argues that these measures compromise national security by reducing the human element needed to catch smugglers and other security threats.

The Work-from-Home Debate

The issue of remote work is also a significant sticking point. Recently, the government mandated that federal employees must work from the office at least three days a week starting in September. This decision has met with strong opposition from public service unions, which have promised a "summer of discontent."

Weber mentions that over 2,000 CBSA members have worked remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic and want these arrangements to be included in their collective agreement. The union is skeptical of any government promises without concrete commitments, given past experiences.

The Likelihood of a Strike

Treasury Board spokesperson Martin Potvin emphasizes a commitment to negotiating a fair deal for employees and taxpayers. Both sides are currently engaged in what can be seen as a mix of negotiation and posturing. The union's strong vote in favor of strike action indicates significant dissatisfaction, with many issues remaining unresolved from their last strike in 2021.

Ross points out that the union has been without a collective agreement for two years, leading to built-up frustration over stagnant wages. As both sides wait to see who will make the first significant move, the potential for a disruptive work-to-rule campaign looms large.

What’s Next?

The situation remains fluid, and the outcome of the mediation will be crucial. The government might believe the union isn't organized enough to pull off a significant work-to-rule action, but they could be proven wrong. This uncertainty leaves both travelers and businesses in a state of limbo, waiting to see how events unfold.


As summer travel plans take shape, the potential CBSA strike serves as a reminder of the complex interplay between labor negotiations and everyday activities like crossing the border. The coming weeks will be critical in determining whether a deal can be reached or if Canadians will have to brace for longer waits and economic disruption.

Do you agree with this potential strike action? Think it’s justified or too disruptive? Share your thoughts in the comments below!