It has been a long, bumpy, and hesitant progression for officers of the RCMP towards possible unionization. Will eventual unionization be the panacea to all that ails? Or, is it the subtle push over the cliff for an organization which is reeling, staggering under a bloated bureaucracy, inept Federal direction and inadequate financing and resources?
In the last twenty years this stetson and breeches symbol of Canada is quickly becoming just that; a symbol, not a viable operational policing structure; proving itself time and again no longer able to be all things to everyone. A Federal agency not able to admit its shortcomings. There is mounting evidence that it is slipping, has lost sight of its core abilities, no longer able to provide Municipal and Provincial policing, at least not at an acceptable or comparable level to other police agencies.
Its current inflated management struggles with 21st century issues, leaving most of its 179 Superintendents, 58 Chief Superintendents and 26 Assistant Commissioners ill-equipped to handle what is about to come their way; either administratively or from a practical perspective. A colossal ship unable to turn in time, unable to steer clear of modernization, try as it might. They are a struggling para-military organization which seems confounded by the need to absorb and learn about labour law, sexual harassment, grievances, arbitration, wage negotiations and the other policy trappings of policing in the new age.
Until now it has always been a closed shop, promoting and advancing from within, oblivious to the “real world”, often using the RCMP Act to bludgeon officers into compliance and acceptance whether it be an issue of pay, or a grievance. More often than not the preferred solution was to ignore the problem, often for years on end.
There was at one time an era of independence from their Federal masters, a time when the RCMP still seemed concerned with operational policing, and tried to maintain at least a perceived distance from political machinations. It was indeed the Mad Men era, where drinking, smoking and making yourself available for “choir practise” was the way of handling dissent; personality clashes often ironed out over rambunctious and censor free talk. It was not necessarily acceptable nor right, but it was the way of the times.
The “old school” group of officers tended to be Saskatchewan farm boys or South shore Nova Scotians happy to have a steady, exciting, yet blue collar job. You were allowed into the “club”, informally vetted, became a “member” of the blue line, and that line was inviolate, only allowed to bend, not break.
The vast majority of the officers in the RCMP were ironically, anti-union, with a greater chance of breaking up a strike or quelling demonstrations than voting for or supporting a union.
The officers of those days carried their .38 revolver and cheap yellow plastic flashlights, but they have now been replaced by officers adorned with multiple weapons, body armour, and carbine rifles and who would not be out of place in a theatre of war. They are now better educated, interested in career planning, paternity and maternity leave, isolation pay, and the utopian work/life balance. PTSD has become common place, sometimes seemingly more prevalent than the flu.
This ponderous, slow evolutionary process inside the RCMP has set these two worlds, the old and the new, on a collision course. The old way of doing things are coming to an end, there is no other plausible or possible outcome.
In January of 2015 the Supreme Court of Canada fired the first shot allowing the right to organize within the RCMP and even went further saying that the government needed to bring in legislation and a framework that would clear a path for the RCMP to pursue unionization.
The government was of course late in reaching this court deadline handed to them by the Supreme Court, but finally produced Bill C-7. In its initial form it looked suspicious. It seemed to be a bit of a trojan horse, and seem designed to provide the legislation while at the same time trying to rip the heart and power out of any future collective bargaining agreement.
The Senate in their due process found that the bill as proposed by the Liberals were trying to keep normally assumed rights issues such as harassment, code of conduct, equipment and staffing levels excluded from the collective bargaining process. It would be hard to believe that this was just an oversight on the part of the Liberals. This was a direct attempt to keep away from the hot button issues. And it was a ridiculous attempt to cling to the old world, a brazen attempt that even the dust covered Senators were quick to realize and raise opposition.
Most of what they they tried to exclude were coincidently ones that would also lead to a monumental increase in budgets.
The Senate proposed amendments to the bill and sent it back to the House. They recommended that these normal bargaining issues should be put back into the legislation, and needed to be included in any possible RCMP collective agreement.
(There were a couple of line items that the Liberals still refused to go along with; the expanding of the Public Service Labour Relations Board to hear RCMP grievances; and the inability for the RCMP to strike. They also rejected the need for a secret ballot which had been introduced by the Conservatives.)
In May 2017 the Liberals, bending to some mounting pressure adopted almost all of the Senate recommendations. The bill has now received Royal assent and will become law shortly, a bill that would allow bargaining on issues such as manpower resourcing and code of conduct.
As Bill C-7 wound its way through the Senate review process, the Federal government had also moved to make the 3900 “civilian” employees, into members of the Public Service. Workers in the RCMP such as those working in wiretap rooms and at the RCMP call centres were no longer going to be civilian police, they were going to become members of PSAC.
Although this seems like a relatively minor change, this too engendered a small amount of controversy. As “civilian” officers of the RCMP, some argued that they often indirectly enjoyed greater benefits that accrued to the RCMP as opposed to being a member of the public service. These workers will now be represented by PSAC beginning in 2020 (the delay is because of the boondoggled Phoenix pay system, and the government does not want to make the change until it is confident that the pay system is rectified. ) Their jobs haven’t changed, nor should they, but the very responsibility for their employment standards and pay now rests with a union.
Meanwhile, in April 2017 there were two groups of Mounties who wanted to form a union group and apply for certification. One group of Mounties calling themselves the National Police Federation gained the upper hand and with a sudden influx of memberships were in a position to apply for union certification at the Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board. They are now seeking to represent the 17,945 officers.
In typical Mountie fashion, this application and the ability of the NPF to represent was not without controversy.
At the time the NPF was vying with another group of Mounties who made up the MPPAC (Mounted Police Professional Association) to be the union group of choice. The MPPAC has a long history dating back a couple of decades where a small vocal group of officers cajoled and hammered away at the RCMP management group. They called for a unionized force years before, and developed a legal fund to assist officers they felt had been unduly treated. Their overall effectiveness was open to debate, but there was little doubt that they were thorns in management’s backside.
The NPF on the other hand are made up of former Division Staff Relations Representatives. In the years before the court go ahead for unionization, there was the the Division Representative program. It was a system clearly which favoured management both in terms of power and outcome. Although officers voted and elected a group of individuals who were to represent them to management, it was a half-hearted attempt by management to suborn any kind of union talk which was festering and bubbling below the surface at the time. It was of pure government design, one intended to appear advanced and supportive of the rank and file, but in practise somewhat of a slight of hand operation.
The DSRR’s had no real power (even their assessments were done by their Commanding Officers) so they were often seen as being pawns of the managers and too eager to choose the side of the managers. They were clearly beholden to upper management, some were more vocal than others, but their effectiveness and power lay in the ability to persuade.
So as the deadline approached for filing for union certification the two groups were pitted against each other and seemingly evenly split in terms of support.
It seems that the NPF, the former group of DSRR’s, were allowed to access and use the RCMP email system to garner support. This is contrary to how the system should work as management is not allowed to show favour to one group over another. The MPPAC wrote several emails complaining and have now filed a grievance, which they hope will be expedited by the Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board complaining of this favour and demanding retractions.
The NPF also used the management condoned Legal Fund to further their cause. The Legal Fund was a not for profit fund, supported by over 16,000 officers through voluntary pay cheque deductions. The RCMP allowed the NPF to seek support in an email through the auspices of the Legal fund and it also provided a loan to the NPF to get started in their union certification drive.
Both seem unethical to a great many officers and of course the MPPAC. It clearly reeked of favourites being played, a group of officers who had previously worked for the rank and file but somewhat beholden to the managers of the day were now being supported by management to be the union group of choice. If this process was not tainted it certainly had the appearance of inequity.
Then along came another bump in the road when officers in Quebec decided that they wanted to form their own union in “C” Division, distinct and apart from the rest of the National police Force. They have launched an appeal of the decision to have one union for all RCMP. Serge Bilodeau, the head of the Quebec push said that “the move is justifiable due to the specifics that are applicable to the needs of Quebec’s frontline members”.
Quebec or “C” Division has always been an outlier, fed by a Provincial culture which often identified itself with the labour movement and generally in favour of unionization. Its a Division which has always seen itself as distinct from the other RCMP officers in Canada. This has created a chasm between them and their fellow officers in other parts of Canada. The divisive politics of the Quebec region, between the English and the French, has always carried over to the RCMP as well. That being said, it would be difficult to argue that they are unique in their issues to the other officers in Canada.
Nevertheless the NPF group seems best positioned and awaits certification after it got a major influx of “sign ups” when they publicly stated their support for the “yellow stripe”campaign.
If one accepts that the majority of officers will vote in favour of a Union (and this is not a sure bet), it will be a long uphill climb with a momentous learning curve but it does seem that the general membership has turned the philosophical corner. There seems to be a time for union membership to be nurtured, when disgruntled employees reach a breaking point with the big brother attitude of management or with a poisonous work environment. The RCMP officers seemed to have reached that point.
But make no mistake, if it proceeds, it will be the catalyst for significant change previously unseen in the long history of the RCMP.
Historically, the RCMP management kept staffing levels low, and this combined with the discounted municipal contracts offered by Ottawa has always made the RCMP the “cheap” choice. There is little doubt that a collective agreement will alter manpower, costs and salaries will go up, and the overall cost of running the RCMP will increase.
Some estimate a 30% increase in overall costs, which Ottawa would have to try and download to the towns and cities. (For example: the people in the City of Vancouver for the VPD pay $420 per capita; North Vancouver, an RCMP jurisdiction bordering Vancouver pay $230.00 per capita) Regional policing in places like the Lower Mainland in British Columbia may be an inevitable second wave of change, as politicians will vie to have more political control of the now more expensive police officers.
Grievances will still be handled in house, but union representatives will be in place, and the dynamics will change dramatically. There will be no more prolonged or ignored labour issues. A grievance will need to be heard quickly and the outcomes will be measured and set precedents. The lineup for those wrongs will be extensive, and the members should be prepared to recognize that the outcomes may not be to the liking of all officers.
Meal breaks will be monitored, staffing levels will need to be maintained, and supervisors will have a more accountable role. Overtime and promotions will be questioned and there will a need for justification. Seniority will play a bigger role, and early promotions whether justified or not will almost become non-existent.
Shop stewards, union heads and union administrators will all have to learn the job for which none of them for the most part have any experience. All will have to be elected through an internal process. Union monies will need to be collected and charters and budgets will need to be developed. (Union members now pay roughly 1.1 to 1.3% of their salary to dues. For an $80,000 officer, you would be paying at least $1,040.00 per year. That would equate to a union with a budget of over $20,000,000.00.)
Setting up a the structure needed, communications budgets and all that this entails would be an enormous undertaking for any newly formed union group. As personalities jostle for position in the NPF the members themselves will need to be paying attention. They will now be a political Force.
Will the current RCMP senior management in Ottawa be able to meet these demands? It seems unlikely. Certainly not in its present format. The old management guard will be pushed and prodded to adapt, some will and some won’t, but the RCMP Act will no longer be a hiding place where they can seek shelter. The administrative roles will be pulled away and the freedom to operate within the current vacuum will dissipate, as new air will be blown in.
As to the membership, the current crop of young officers will adapt, and likely applaud the changes. The veterans will decry the strictures now placed on them, and continue to wax eloquently about the good old days.
There will be bitching about the amount of union dues.
There will be talk about an FBI styled RCMP and the need to get out of uniform policing altogether.
Will it work, will the RCMP officers be better off? Only time will tell, but you can be assured it will not be the same. There will be a tectonic shift in both makeup and administration of the RCMP.
Maybe thats a good thing. Maybe it needs to start over.
Maybe like the 75 year old wooden house the structure needs to be demolished; no longer practical to save, the planks and cross beams decaying and unable to support the overall building. This house which has been ignored, uncared for over the years, has made it no longer serviceable.
The proud, historic, and hereditary structure now just a symbol of what was, of a day gone by. It will be lamented but it will never be reversed. Someone should be accountable for the lack of upkeep, but they wont be.
These managers who placed the officers into this point in history are likely to be moving on — probably just before that house roof falls in.
In a recent interview with CTV the seemingly single issue Commissioner Lucki continues to speak in sync with the Liberals, on building a “more tolerant, more inclusive and absolutely more respectful workplace”. These are obvious and warranted goals, but somehow out of sync, secondary needs considering the chaos that surrounds this organization and the chaos which is about to come.
It is analogous to the Band on the Titanic, continuing to play, ignoring the cries to abandon ship, as the water begins lapping at their ankles. Trudeau the conductor and Ralph Goodale playing the violin. Commissioner Lucki on 2nd violin following their lead, trying to stay in rhythm.