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In a few short days, Canada Post workers may be locked out by their employer.
The Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), which represents 50,000 workers, and Canada Post have been negotiating since November over a new collective agreement, without any sign that they are close to ending negotiations.
On July 5, Canada Post's management announced that they had filed a 72 hour lockout notice, which may lead to a work disruption on July 8. Contrary to popular belief CUPW has not filed a strike notice and national president Mike Palecek told rabble in an interview they have no plans to at this point.
Here's what's at stake for both sides:
The current labour dispute between Canada Post and CUPW does not exist in a vacuum. Palecek said that much of what is at issue is left over from the last round of bargaining in 2011. CUPW and Canada Post fought over sick days, wage increases and their pension plan. Eventually CUPW began strike actions, holding rotating job actions across the country, and Canada Post then locked out CUPW members.
The lockout ended when the Conservative government legislated Canada Post employees back to work. Though the law that sent them back would be found unconstitutional by an Ontario Superior Court in 2016, the result was that the collective agreement that was signed reduced sick days, and imposed wages and the behest of the government, according to the Toronto Star.
The disputes didn't stop there. As Canada Post mulled over cutting back services, including door-to-door delivery, the union promoted their plan to help shore up revenues -- postal banking. It wasn't an outlandish plan either.
A heavily redacted report uncovered by Blacklock's Reporter in 2014 indicated that Canada Post had at the very least studied the idea. And some postal services around the world have successfully expanded into banking and made up lost revenues as post print products decline.
As the current offer on the table stands, a two-tier pension system might become the reality for postal workers. Canada Post wants the union to accept a defined contribution plan for new employees. "The proposed change would alter the plan such that the contributions made by each worker would be set, but there would be no guarantee of the benefits they would receive in retirement," wrote rabble labour reporter Teuila Fautai in a recent story on the negotiations.
Canada Post's position is that sticking with the old benefit plan, which guarantees a set of benefits after retirement, would cost the company over $1 billion. Palecek disputes this, telling the CBC on July 5 that Canada Post in fact has a $2.7 billion surplus. According to a CTV News report, Canada Post had a $2 billion in revenue in the first quarter of 2016, which led to a net profit of $24 million.
"We will not accept a two-tiered pension," Palecek says. "We will not accept that our future co-workers and future generations will not have a secure retirement plan." Canada Post representatives have yet to respond to rabble's request for comment on this story.
On CTV News, employment lawyer Muneeza Sheikh suggested Canada Post needs to open their books to prove that it will cost that much.
Palecek says the pension is important -- but there are other important issues at play.
Palecek thinks that Canada Post is trying to distract from the biggest issue on the table -- fixing the gender pay gap. "Our rural and suburban mail carrier unit, which is predominately made up of women, get paid 28 per cent less than their predominantly male counterparts in the urban operations unit for doing the exact same work." He added that this issue has to be resolved during this round of bargaining.
Rural workers do piecework, as described by Palecek, as opposed to urban post delivers who are paid a daily wage.
But the union wants to equalize those pay rates. "They simply have to pay the rural and suburban letter carriers exactly what they pay the urban letter carriers."
Canada Post spokesperson Jon Hamilton told CTV News that the gender pay gap allegations are "simply not true."
In May 2016, the Liberal government announced that they would do a two-phase independent review of Canada Post services. A task force will first examine the options available to the service, and then a parliamentary committee on Canada Post will consult Canadian in the fall of 2016.
Palecek said in a press release that Canada Post is sabotaging that review. It's not clear what benefit Canada Post would derive from that decision to delay, though Rank and File argues that management wants the labour dispute to "dominate the agenda."
Palecek noted that after the election, Canada Post president and CEO Deepak Chopra was asked to step down by the Liberal government. Chopra was reappointed to a second five-year term starting in February 2016 by the Conservatives. The chair of the Canada Post board rejected the request in December 2015.
According to the CBC, Public Services Minister Judy Foote says that privatization of Canada Post is off the table. But, as Rank and File points out, there's evidence that Canada Post's leadership has strong ties to the pro-privatization side of the debate.
"The Liberals have a responsibility to clean up this mess now," says Palecek. "And we can't figure out why Stephen Harper's people are still running the post office."
For now, he says they union's main concern is ensuring there is a negotiated collective agreement and that there is no disruption in postal service. "It's management that is trying to shut us down."
Editor's update: An earlier version of this article incorrectly noted the 2011 dispute resulted in a CUPW strike that ended when the Conservatives legislated members back to work. CUPW workers staged rotating strike actions and then were locked out by Canada Post. The lockout ended when federal legislation was passed. rabble regrets this error.
H.G. Watson is the associate editor at J-source magazine and former rabble labour intern. Follow her on twitter @HG_Watson
Photo: flickr/Yutaka Seki