National Arts Centre says all performances continue as some workers vote to strike

The National Arts Centre in downtown Ottawa

Unionized workers at the National Arts Centre have voted in favour of a strike mandate, but the NAC says no formal strike notice has been delivered.

Members from the Operations and Ushers/Box Office groups of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) have been without a contract since 2018 and 2019 respectively, the union said in a news release.

“The workers at the National Arts Centre have been through a lot, between pandemic lockdowns and the convoy affecting operations,” said Alex Silas, PSAC’s Regional Executive Vice-President for the National Capital Region. “But the federal government provided $35.4 million to the NAC to help them reopen, so why aren’t the workers being offered fair wage increases?”

PSAC says negotiations for both groups will resume this Friday and continue next week.

Both groups are pushing for fair wage increases, PSAC says. The operations group alleges the employer refuses to address issues such as overtime, leave, and benefits for part-time employees. The ushers and box office group is looking to address job security issues, including the rehiring of part-time box office workers fired in the middle of the pandemic.

“This isn’t the little theatre we’re talking about, it’s the National Arts Centre. They shouldn’t be using the pandemic as an excuse to cut wages and make people re-start their jobs at day one,” said Silas.

In a statement, the NAC said it would be returning to the bargaining table with PSAC with the goal of entering into a collective agreement with both groups.

"The NAC remains hopeful it can reach a negotiated settlement with both groups. The union will only be in a legal strike position upon submitting a 72-hour strike notice to the employer. To date, no strike notice has been received," the NAC said. "All NAC performances and events continue as scheduled."

The NAC said the emergency funding raised by the union was used to maintain basic operations and address revenue shortfalls because of the pandemic.

"It was not intended to cover wages," the statement said.

The NAC also said part-tine box office workers who were let go in 2021 were released because they had no work for 12 months.

"This was in accordance with the NAC’s obligation under the collective agreement and supported by the union at the time," the NAC said. "No grievance has been filed since. The NAC is now able to open these positions and former employees are welcomed to re-apply."