Possible postal strike on the horizon

By David F. Rooney

Postal workers right across the country could be locked out or on strike as of midnight on Tuesday.

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers’ 48,000 members have been without a contract since January 31 and even though their leaders have been negotiating with Canada Post since October 21, no agreement has been reached.

A conciliation period expired on May 3, after which there was a mandatory 21-day cooling-off period. This means Canada Post has the right to lock out its employees and CUPW has the right to strike as of midnight Tuesday.

A statement from CUPW President Denis Lemelin said the union is still trying to negotiate a settlement and has not yet taken the decision to strike.

A strike will disrupt business and personal mail and while CUPW has a signed agreement with Canada Post to deliver government pension and social assistance cheques in the event of a strike or lock out, not all governments have decided to use this service. This agreement was initiated by CUPW.

The federal government will have Canada Pension Plan, Old Age Security and Child Benefits cheques delivered. The governments of Quebec, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta and the North West Territories will use the post office to deliver cheques but not necessarily all cheques. CUPW has asked Canada Post for a list. However, British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Manitoba, Yukon and Nunavut have opted not to have social assistance cheques delivered through Canada Post.

According to Lemelin, Canada Post is proposing a four-year agreement with wage increases of 1.75%, 1.75%, 1.9% and 2.0%. For Group 1 and 2 employees hired after the date of signing the collective agreement the employer is proposing a starting rate of $18/hour. Union negotiators say that offer is much too low considering the current annual inflation rate of 3.3%. They oppose the introduction of a new starting salary that would be 22% less than the current starting rate of a letter carrier which is $23.11/hour.

The union also wants the current sick leave plan left in place, while Canada Post wants a new plan through Manulife. Paid parental leave, a cost-of-living allowance and other issues are also in dispute.