Unions rally to support postal workers, as back-to-work law nears

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CUPW members in Vancouver. Photo: David P. Ball

Thousands of unionists rallied outside Canada Post's offices in Winnipeg and Ottawa on Thursday in support of locked-out postal workers, while a solidarity rally is being planned today in Vancouver.

Chanting "Negotiate, don't legislate," members from dozens of unions protested outside Canada Post's Ottawa headquarters and Winnipeg offices, criticizing the federal government's tabling of back-to-work legislation next Monday.

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) criticized the impending legislation as suppressing workers' rights.

"It's outrageous," said CUPW Vancouver president Robert Mulvin. "Not only locking us out, but then forcing us back. We were hoping the labour minister would ask us to work at [negotiations] a little more."

Unionists expressed hope that Canada Post, which locked out workers who had been on rotating strikes for more than a week, will return to the negotiating table before the government law passes.

"As workers, we have a common cause to protect the rights of the little people," said Angie, a 30-year Vancouver mail sorter who would only give her first name. "We are the backbone of industry, but as workers we have little voice in running the company."

Marching a picket line in front of Canada Post's Vancouver office, through a massive crowd of Canucks fans prior to the Stanley Cup final, Angie pointed to the larger cause of workers' rights and called on Canadians' to support CUPW workers.

"If this big corporation wins against the union, other big companies will do the same thing," she said. "Canadians will become more like the Americans without good medical plans, paying higher premiums, and little protection."

Mulvin said unionists are concerned about what the future holds for worker rights under Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

"We're on the forefront of the struggle," he said. "But out on the picket lines, we've really come together. We've got a whole generation of newer workers who've never been on strike; it's been a real eye-opener for them.

"Even on the line last night [before the Stanley Cup final], young people went out to talk to the rowdies who were yelling 'Get back to work!' When they heard what our issues are, some of them said, 'Oh, we support you.' Young people have a really strong voice."

Another labour official, who asked not to be named, expressed optimism that the legislation would be avoided by Canada Post returning to the table, citing Wednesday's tentative deal between striking Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) and Air Canada. CUPW's president, Denis Lemelin, issued a press release condemning back-to-work legislation.

"We believe in free speech, free association, and free collective bargaining," said Lemelin. "This legislation hurts the values that our country stands for and is an attack on workers' rights and standard of living."

"We will nevertheless continue to struggle for the rights of our members, the rights of all workers, and a just society built on decent jobs."

Postal workers were on strike to call for improved benefits, health packages, wages and job security, as well as work safety as the company modernizes its operations. The company claims the strike had cost it more than $100 million in lost revenues. Canada Post CEO Deepak Chopra makes upwards of $650,000 a year in salary and bonuses.

David P. Ball is an freelance photojournalist in Vancouver, Coast Salish territories. His website can be found here.

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