Accueil » 23-4 ( 1968) » L’Alliance de la fonction publique du Canada

L’Alliance de la fonction publique du Canada

Claude A. Edwards


Après un historique et une présentation de la nature de l’Alliance de la fonction publique du Canada, l'auteur en présente les structures et relève quelques problèmes internes de ce syndicat.


The Public Service Alliance of Canada


In order to discuss the structure of the Public Service Alliance of Canada as it is now and indicate ways in which it is changing to conform to the pressures of collective bargaining in the Federal Public Service — a relatively new development — we must briefly review the history of Public Service Unions as they approached the development of collective bargaining in the Public Service.

In the days following the Second World War when Canada was less concerned about inflation and the wage-price spiral, when the economy was booming but not « over-heated », there was an increasing demand by the general public for more and more services by government at all levels. To meet this demand, the federal government service was expanded considerably — from 116,000 in 1945 to 160,000 in 1961. Today, it is approximately 183,000.

Meantime, the staff association movement was developing. The Civil Service Federation, which began its career in 1909 with a membership of 5,223 but had grown to 37,000 by 1945, increased its membership to 80,000 by 1958. It had, however, suffered setbacks in the breaking away of the Civil Service Association of Ottawa (later to become part of the Civil Service Association of Canada) in 1954 and the Canadian Postal Employees Association in 1962. Before the merger of the CSAC and the Federation in 1966, the CSF had a membership, nevertheless, that was nearly double that of all other staff associations combined.

It was not only in numbers that the Federation grew. The 1947 Convention appointed a paid full-time National Secretary with a supporting clerical staff. After the passage of the Civil Service Act of 1961, this staff developed further so that, by 1962, there were upwards of thirty paid employees and a full-time President at the Head Office.

The CSAC, at the time of its merger with the Amalgamated Civil Servants of Canada in 1958, had 22,000 members. In the following eight years, this figure had increased to 33,000. It, too, increased its Head Office staff and, when the Alliance was formed in 1967, this staff amounted to about 20.

Politicians eventually began to take notice of this growth in strength of Civil Service Staff Organizations. In response to often voiced complaints, they began to speak of paying salaries comparable to those paid by « the best employers in the private sector ». This was soon watered down to « good employers in the private sector » and eventually to « rates comparable to those paid in the private sector ». The Civil Service Act of 1961 and the consultation process embodied in that Act were considered sufficient to produce the desired results. These measures were, however, quite inadequate.

Meantime, the increased pressure occasioned by the development of staff organizations was not without its effects. In 1944, after numerous endorsements by parliamentary committees over a period of twenty-five years, and after a considerable amount of agitation, the government of the day had authorized the establishment of what came to be known as the National Joint Council. On this Council there was equal representation for employer and employee organizations, but the Council fell short of expectations. The Council which has continued into the collective bargaining era, has now assumed some of the functions of a labour-management committee and it is hoped that in the Council, agreement can be reached in matters affecting the whole service such as medical plans, insurance plans, mileage and commuting allowances, etc.

Another effect was the creation in 1957 of the Pay Research Bureau, the reports and findings of which were made available to both management and staff organizations. This provided a common base on which consultations could take place. There was, however, constant sniping by representatives of the Treasury Board at the basis on which the statistics were compiled by the Pay Research Bureau, and the Board frequently interpreted the tabulations in PRB reports in a manner that was unacceptable to the staff organizations. Even more important, after consultation and agreement between the Civil Service Commission and the representatives of the employees, the Treasury Board arbitrarily set aside, on a number of occasions, the salary recommendations of the Civil Service Commission and made unilateral decisions that negatived the whole value of the consultation process.

Prior to the 1962 federal election, the leaders of all political parties were asked by some of the staff organizations if they and their parties were prepared to endorse a system of collective bargaining for civil servants. Leaders of the Liberal and New Democratic parties answered affirmatively, the others supported the idea but with some reservations. The result was that when the Liberals formed their government they were reminded of their promise and, in 1963, the Preparatory Committee on Collective Bargaining was set up under the Chairmanship of Mr. A.D.P. Heeney, former Ambassador to Washington and former Chairman of the Civil Service Commission.

In the deliberations of the Heeney Committee, the staff organizations were consulted. At first they co-ordinated their efforts through the Staff Side Conference but, as the ideas of the Heeney Committee became better known, the Professional Institute and the Federated Association of Letter Carriers (later to become known as the Letter Carriers Union ) withdrew their support and decided to « go it alone » since they could see from the Heeney Committee discussions that bargaining would be based on occupational groupings. The Professional Institute believed it could command the allegiance of professional employees and thus capture the professional bargaining units and the Letter Carriers believed their destiny lay with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers to form a Council of bargaining agents in the Post Office. The two remaining members of the Staff Side Conference (the Civil Service Federation and the Civil Service Association) decided that they could only achieve bargaining rights for the majority of groups by merging their two organizations in the Public Service Alliance of Canada. The final step in this merger was taken at the Founding Convention of the Alliance in November, 1966. It was this organization's function to put collective bargaining into effect in 1967 for 115,000 members.

The Public Service Alliance was a creature of compromise. The founding fathers had been traditional rivals for many years. Without the catalyst of collective bargaining, with the need to join forces in order to obtain certification for the various bargaining units, I doubt whether unity would have been achieved for several more years.

The Constitution of the newly formed Alliance, born of compromise, inevitably produced problems for our new role. The Federation was composed of affiliates which had full autonomy but had delegated certain rights to handle service-wide problems to the central establishment of the Federation. The Association was a unitary organization with full control vested in a central body. The founders of the Alliance attempted to create an organization that would reflect the best features of both parents. Just as parents can never be sure that their child will only inherit their best qualities, likewise the Alliance suffers from the same natural tendencies.


The passage of the Public Service Staff Relations Act of 1967, has meant that Public Service Organizations must deal with the Government in a fashion that differs from the practices of years gone by.

There have been some fundamental changes in the feelings and attitudes of our members in the past few years. To some, their participation in a union is a traumatic experience. The word was always one of opprobrium. They even shrank from the term « collective bargaining » and preferred to use the word « negotiation ». On the other hand, we have members who now believe they can challenge management decisions at every level and at every opportunity and expect their organization to be militant on every issue regardless of merit. Luckily the vast majority fit into some grey area in between and will permit us to develop and mature in this new relationship without coming to blows with the employer at each difference of opinion.

Section 26 of the Public Service Staff Relations Act of 1967 empowers the Public Service Commission to « specify and define the several occupational groups within each occupational category... in such manner as to comprise therein all employees in the Public Service in respect to whom Her Majesty as represented by the Treasury Board is the employer ». There are six Categories ( Executive, Scientific and Professional, Administrative and Foreign Service, Technical, Administrative Support and Operational) and seventy-two groups.

As I have pointed out, this arrangement by groups for bargaining purposes operates across departmental lines and, as far as the Public Service Alliance is concerned, has brought about certain administrative and organizational arrangements that were considered necessary for the efficient operation of the bargaining process from the viewpoint of the staff side.

First of all, it was obvious that research would have to be channelled along lines calling for detailed study and understanding of the classification standards and the selection standards to be used for the appointment, promotion, transfer and lay-off of public servants. Rates of pay for the seventy-two groups, including those who were formerly regarded as hourly rated and those who were paid « prevailing rates » in the locality of their employment, had to be studied on the basis of the new group classification. The Research Department was also required to give advice to the Alliance on projected legislation and regulations, to consult with the Pay Research Bureau on a variety of matters related to the technique of the Bureau's surveys and, a new development, to consult and discuss with the bargaining committees representing the various occupational groups for which the Alliance is, or expects to be, certified.

Secondly, recruiting had to be directed towards achieving the goal of fifty per cent plus one in each group to obtain certification to represent that group.

Thirdly, the introduction of the grievance process, an entirely new procedure in Canadian Government staff relations, together with the provision for adjudication of certain types of grievances, necessitated the appointment and training of a corps of shop stewards and the education of the membership in the proper use of the grievance procedure. This has necessitated training more than 1,000 stewards across the country, a program that is in process of being expanded five-fold. All grievance proceedings arising from collective agreements are the responsibility of the Appeals and Grievances Department.

Whether it is a matter of classification and selection standards, rates of pay and conditions of employment, certification procedures or grievances, all the activities of the Alliance are ultimately directed towards obtaining higher salaries and better conditions of employment for the membership. This procedure has to be begun, in the final analysis, as with all other unions, by direct negotiation with the employer. Here is where the most important differences are to be found between the old consultation process and the new bargaining procedure. The old paternalism to which so many of the management personnel are still wedded, has been replaced by participation. Unilateral decisions, often unreasonable, have given way to collective agreements negotiated in good faith. The Alliance does not now « consult » the Public Service Commission and the Treasury Board. It negotiates directly with Treasury Board, and the Public Service Commission has no voice in determining salary increases and conditions of employment.


There was, too, an important change in the previously existing relationship between the former Civil Service Federation and its affiliates. These affiliates were departmental organizations which delegated some of their powers to the central authority. When the Alliance was established, these affiliates became components, retaining their departmental relationship, but with their responsibilities within the Alliance more clearly defined and circumscribed by the Constitution.

The structure of the Alliance is analogous in many ways to the structure of the Government in Canada at the Federal and Provincial levels. The central segment corresponds to the Federal government with its power over issues of major concern to the whole membership, e.g. collective bargaining, organization and research. The Components, like the provincial governments, have a relatively subordinate role, being responsible for the relationship of the employer with the employee at the work site.

As is evident in the relationship between the Federal and Provincial governments, this creates stresses. Our stronger Components want more and more autonomy. They want to provide research facilities, training, process grievances to the highest levels and have greater control over the members' dues. Our smaller Components or those with a strong regard for the merits of central control of services are more inclined to permit and request the central organization to do everything possible for them from handling contentious problems in departmental employee-employer relationships to membership education and grievances. Since duplication of services inevitably costs more, we must continue to seek the most effective administrative structure, that will provide the member the best service at every level at the lowest cost.

The Alliance must resist the pressures for decentralization or further proliferation of bargaining units if it is going to maintain a «one big union» concept to deal effectively with the Federal Government in bargaining involving occupational groups that cut across departmental lines. On the other hand, it must recognize that Government is decentralizing more and more through delegation of authority to departments by the Public Service Commission. This delegation of authority for staffing, promotion and classification will create a variety of problems that must be dealt with at the departmental level and we must be organized to deal with these problems quickly and efficiently.

Unfortunately all our Components are not equal in resources or determination when dealing with problems in their own areas of responsibility. An inadequately staffed Component with executive officers or staff who are not prepared to stand up to management on behalf of their membership, will not only create problems for themselves but will also tarnish the image of the Alliance as an effective union in the Public Service. On the other hand, an aggressive Component anxious for more autonomy and control, can create difficulties and divisions by attempting to deal with matters that might more appropriately be left to the central authority.

I do not want to give the impression that we are a «  house divided » in the Alliance. We are not. Some of the bitterest opponents of pre-Alliance days are now firm friends and solid supporters of the Alliance. The five executive officers, three formerly C.S.F. and two C.S.A.C., are working extremely well together as a team.

The Components help in the processing of grievances at the departmental level, they provide for the determination of the demands of their membership with respect to salaries and working conditions, they play an active part in the developing of policy and programs affecting the Public Service and they develop and maintain effective responsible employee-employer relations at the departmental level. They participate at the grass-roots level in bargaining committees. In short, representatives of the membership through the Components, share with the executive and staff of the central office of the Alliance in formulating demands in the bargaining process in a way that brings these demands into conformity with the wishes of the membership.


The changes that have been brought about have nevertheless occasioned a few problems. First, most managers and professionals have never understood the system of collective bargaining and, being generally of an older age group, are conservative in their outlook and have an antipathy towards unions in the Public Service, indeed towards all unions. An educational program is required to change their attitude, the burden of which, except possibly with respect to some of the management personnel who are excluded from the bargaining process, will fall on the staff organisations.

A second problem is raised by the decentralization policy of the government demonstrated in the delegation of authority to departments already mentioned. This appears to run counter to the policy of bargaining for groups at the centre. It could open wide the door to political and bureaucratic patronage despite provision for post-audit by the Public Service Commission of appointments within departments and another audit of job classification by Treasury Board, likewise within Departments. This decentralization also raises such issues as the possibility of a multiplicity of rules and regulations.

The membership itself, too, is in need of an education program and a large share of our resources must now go to this. The old fear still persists that the employee who presents a grievance becomes a marked man and his future is thought to be jeopardized. There have been numerous examples of employees who, though unfairly treated, would not allow their names to go forward on a grievance issue.

Belonging to a union carries with it the requirement to conform to the discipline of the union. Members must be prepared to exercise discipline in the event of a strike and they must be prepared to expect discipline by the Alliance if they fail to abide by the terms of the Constitution.

Further, they must be educated to respect the terms of the contracts negotiated on their behalf and to realize that the millenium has not yet arrived. Some find it difficult to understand that it is sometimes necessary for those who are conducting the bargaining on their behalf to make a choice between an additional fringe benefit and an increase in salary for the members of the group. Others complain of the length of time taken to negotiate a contract, though many collective agreements in the private sector have taken a much longer time. Only as they become more union-educated, more union-minded, will they realize that bargaining means bargaining, not obtaining all at once everything that is demanded.

It has been suggested, too, that because of lack of unified action, the employer in some instances might be able to play off one bargaining agent against another. This is possible. There is a gulf that exists between some of these agents that cannot be overcome overnight. There is dissension, for example, over the issue of exercising the right to strike. Nevertheless, there is the possibility that some day a revived and revitalized National Joint Council might be able to bridge these gaps and produce a common program that all staff organizations can support. In this way a unified position can be taken vis-a-vis the employer to produce a more efficient, more capable and more respected Public Service.


As yet, there has been no national convention succeeding the Founding Convention of 1966. The first one will be held in 1970, by which time the Alliance will have had three years of experience and will have solved many of the problems of the initial certification period or will be prepared to discuss possible solutions to any that are outstanding. The application of a modified Rand Formula will bring increased membership and the organization problems should diminish.

Our Committee on Constitution and Structure will be reporting at that convention and undoubtedly will be making many suggestions to strengthen and clarify the Constitution of the Alliance. The Committee has received briefs calling for a complete change in the Component structure with a series of departments within the Alliance to handle the problems now being handled by Components. On the other hand, the Committee has received briefs recommending more autonomy for Components and there have been suggestions that bargaining should be on the basis of departmental units rather than occupational groups. It is to soon to speculate which way the pendulum will swing. My guess is that within the next three years there will be little major change in the structure of the Alliance. I think the central body will be given clear jurisdiction over central issues and overall disciplinary jurisdiction over the Components. The role of the bargaining groups will become stronger and we may see them becoming politically structured. If this does happen, they will reduce the power of the Components on policy decisions relative to collective bargaining issues. This to me seems inevitable if the bargaining continues on an occupational group basis. If this should change to bargaining on an occupational category basis, i.e., professional, administrative, administrative support, technical and operational, other forces will be created which may change the structure of the Alliance still more. Regardless of what develops, I still believe that the Alliance will continue to grow and prosper. As the Duke of Wellington said of his Cabinet when he was Prime Minister of England, « If we don't hang together we will all hang apart ». Hanging together may be distasteful to some but with few exceptions there is little alternative.


To revert for a moment to history and to close my remarks, I should state that the first groups to organize were the Railway Mail Clerks, in 1889, and the Letter Carriers in 1891. In the latter year, these two associations wrote to the Postmaster General requesting an interview to present arguments for an increase, since there had been no change in their rate of pay for 32 years. The Postmaster replied that he had no intention of wasting his time meeting with dissident groups of employees. We have came a long way since 1891. The millenium may not have arrived, but means to achieve it are in our hands.