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Politics Parliamentary security protests get more colourful amid stalled labour talks

A Parliamentary Protective Service officer wears a ball cap as part of a labour protest as he works in Centre Block, on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa, on Dec. 18, 2018.

Justin Tang

Gun-wearing security officers in the House of Commons have traded their lime-green ball caps for tuques and sports hats of different colours and types as they escalate their labour protest over stalled contract talks.

The officers are also promising to find a new way to break their dress code in the new year if progress is not made in the negotiations, which began in 2017.

While they do not have the right to strike, the 275 members of the Security Service Employees Association (SSEA) are planning additional actions for next month’s opening of the temporary House of Commons in the West Block.

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“The first step is wearing the ball caps, and the second one would start on Jan. 21, 2019, one week before the House of Commons starts sitting again. For the second step, we are not saying what will happen for now,” SSEA president Roch Lapensée said in an interview.

The security officers had been wearing lime-green ball caps in the House of Commons for more than a year, but Mr. Lapensée said people were no longer noticing them, as if they were now part of the regular uniform.

In the first day of the new round of protests on Tuesday, officers could be seen wearing tuques and sports caps from companies such as Reebok or sports teams such as the Denver Broncos. One tuque-wearing officer wore a patch on his uniform that read: “I protect democracy with or without a contract.”

Mr. Lapensée refused to tip his hand about the next step in the labour protests, but said he was well aware that Montreal police officers wore camouflage pants to work for years in a similar contract dispute.

“It will definitely be going up one level. But our goal is not to get there. We want the employer to return to the table with the intention of bargaining in good faith,” he said.

The SSEA is asking for parity between its members and the RCMP officers who also work on Parliament Hill, which would require a pay increase of nearly $15,000 a year, on average, Mr. Lapensée said. The maximum annual salary for a House of Commons protection officer with the rank of constable is now $71,000. In addition, the union wants its members to be paid for lunch breaks, as the officers have to remain in uniform and be ready to intervene at all times.

The SSEA walked out of a collective-bargaining session on Dec. 14 after five minutes of talks with the representatives of the Parliamentary Protective Service (PPS). The organization was created in 2015 to beef up security in the parliamentary precinct eight months after gunman Michael Zehaf-Bibeau killed a soldier at the nearby War Memorial and stormed Centre Block, where he was shot and killed.

The PPS combined the former Senate and House of Commons Protection Services and the RCMP’s Parliament Hill Security Unit, with all operations placed under the responsibility of the RCMP.

A spokesman for the PPS, Joseph Law, refused to comment on the gridlock in the contract negotiations, but said “We have been actively engaged in good faith since the beginning of negotiations and we are committed to reaching an agreement as soon as possible. However, despite our best efforts and much to our disappointment, the SSEA leadership team unexpectedly left the last meeting within minutes of arriving.”

The PPS started issuing verbal and then written reprimands in 2017 to the officers who wore the green ball caps. The next steps in the disciplinary process would be one-day suspensions, followed by suspensions of three to five days, with dismissals as the final step.

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