Canada will re-open its borders to American travelers in a matter of days. However, the country may be forced to do so with thousands of border workers on a "work-to-rule strike."
Two unions representing 9,000 employees of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) took "job action" on Friday morning, three days before Canada was scheduled to open its borders to American travelers.
Workers with the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) and the Customs and Immigration Union (CIU) announced they had taken "job action" beginning Friday morning at 6 a.m. ET.
According to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, workers at the unions say they're seeking better protection against harassment, discrimination and the "toxic workplace culture" at the CBSA.
USA Today reports that the two unions claim that they've been working without a collectively bargained contract "for over three years."
In their joint statements, the unions said that employees would follow all policies, procedures and laws applying to their work but would only do them to the "letter of the law." They said that travelers entering Canada should "expect long lineups and lengthy delays at border crossings and airports" during the strike."
"We truly hoped we wouldn't be forced to take strike action, but we've exhausted every other avenue to reach a fair contract with the government," said Chris Aylward, the national president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada. "Treasury Board and CBSA have been clear they aren't prepared to address critical workplace issues at CBSA at the bargaining table."
"We've continued to serve Canadians throughout the pandemic – keeping our borders safe, screening travellers (sic) for COVID-19 and clearing vital vaccine shipments," said Mark Weber, the national president of the CIU. "Now it's time for the government to step up for CBSA employees."
In a statement to the CBC, the CBSA said it would "respond quickly to any job action" and that it did not expect the kind of delays described by the unions.
"We expect that our officers will continue to fulfill their duties with the highest level of integrity and professionalism," the CBSA told the CBC.
In July, Canada announced it would be opening its borders to fully vaccinated American travelers beginning on Aug. 9. Fully vaccinated travelers from other parts of the world can come into Canada beginning Sept. 7.
Travelers coming into Canada by plane will still need to present a negative COVID-19 test upon entering the country, regardless of vaccination status.
Travel into Canada has been extremely limited since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. Non-essential travel into the country has been prohibited, and even essential travel has been limited to just a handful of qualified people.