By LOUIS LANG*
On Thursday, August 25 the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) postponed a press conference and after an all-day meeting of its National Executive Board announced that it was issuing a 72-hour notice of strike action. In a bulletin to its members CUPW stated, “Based on Canada Post’s refusal to agree to the 24-hour extension of our strike mandate, we have issued our 72-hour notice of strike activity. We will be in a legal strike position as of 11:59 pm Sunday, August 28, 2016. The NEB will inform everyone if, when and what strike activities will occur. Please monitor all communication channels so that you are informed.”
CUPW had no choice but to issue the notice because the strike mandate from the membership expired at midnight on August 25, 2016. Without the mandate the union would not have been able to defend its members from attacks of the corporation such as threats of lockout and unilateral changes in working conditions and benefits. These are methods of intimidation which Canada Post has been using all along in these negotiations in order to force the workers and CUPW to accept severe rollbacks in working conditions and benefits. In reality, no real negotiations have taken place since January of this year. Instead the corporation has used every delaying tactic it could to bring the negotiations period to an end so that it could use the threat of lockout to force the union to make concessions.
During the last round of negotiations in 2011, after a few days of rotating strikes, Canada Post locked out postal workers nationally and the Harper government used back-to-work legislation to impose a contract on the workers, which included a final offer selection process of arbitration which was heavily biased in favour of the corporation. CUPW challenged the legality of the federal legislation under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, claiming that the legislation violated the rights of workers to freedom of association and freedom of expression.
The court challenge was heard in October 2015 and, subsequently, in April 2016, Justice J. Firestone of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice rendered his decision, “Based on the evidentiary record there can be no question that, on the facts of this case, the Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians Act abrogated the right to strike of CUPW members.” He went on at length to explain how the Act violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He said, “The Act abrogated the right to strike of CUPW members. The effect of this abrogation was to substantially interfere with – and to disrupt the balance of – a meaningful process of collective bargaining between CUPW and Canada Post. I find accordingly that the Act infringed the s.2(d) freedom of association of union members and must be justified under s.1 of the Charter.” Justice Firestone further found that the Act was in fact not a “reasonable limitation” on rights and not justifiable under this section.
In this round of negotiations postal workers are faced with the same difficult situation: severe rollbacks and the corporation refusing to negotiate in good faith and using threats and intimidation to achieve their goal of further privatization and gutting what is left of the contract. This includes: precarious part-time and temporary employment, no improvements in staffing, and the ability to close all 493 protected CUPW staffed retail locations which would eliminate up to 1,200 full-time jobs. The attacks on retirement security continue with demands to increase the cost of retiree benefits and to change to a defined contribution pension plan for all new regular employees. It also includes demands to change the working conditions for all Urban employees. Canada Post’s proposal on pay equity for Rural and Suburban Mail Carriers (RSMCs) was nothing more than an attempt to complicate and delay that process.
The union has participated in several meetings where representatives of the Trudeau government were involved in the discussions between the two parties. On Friday, August 19, Scott Brison, President of the Treasury Board, along with senior officials from Employment and Social Development Canada met with CUPW negotiating Committee and Canada Post officials but no advance was made. Similarly CUPW negotiators were very disappointed with the results of a meeting on Tuesday, August 23, when the Minister of Labour and her officials attended a negotiations session.
Throughout the process of failed negotiations the Trudeau government has been pretending that it has no responsibility for what is going on. Prime Minister Trudeau has simply avoided the issue by making declarations about his belief in “good faith negotiations that happen around the bargaining table,” and even declared that his government is “not considering back-to-work legislation.”
But this pretense of being an innocent bystander cannot go on for much longer.
After all, the Prime Minister must recognize the fact that the Government of Canada is the sole shareholder of Canada Post Corporation and is ultimately responsible for the conduct of Canada Post officials.
When Canada Post threatened to lock out the workers in July and force them to work without a contract and under unilaterally imposed conditions, Trudeau did not say a word and left postal workers hanging out to dry. It is difficult to believe Trudeau when he says that he doesn’t want to interfere in negotiations since it is his cabinet that initiated a mandate review in the middle of crucial negotiations. This mandate review is being used to float all kinds of unsubstantiated claims about the “dire financial situation of Canada Post.”
The so-called consultation with Canadians is not to give anyone an opportunity to say what kind of Post Office we want but to present people with a fait accompli that because of the “financial crisis,” people should decide which of their postal services they want eliminated.
In the coming days, postal workers and the Canadian people will be presented with another crisis – the disruption of postal service from one end of the country to the other. This is the direct result of the intransigence of Canada Post and their refusal to respect the right of workers to negotiate their wages and working conditions. Solving this problem will be extremely difficult for the workers and their defence organization but it will be even more difficult if the workers go into this fight with illusions about the role of the Trudeau Liberals at this time.
To talk about “the rogue Chopra,” and say that the “Harper appointees” are the main culprits in sabotaging negotiations is to create illusions about the role of the Trudeau cabinet. How does this type of discussion help postal workers get ready for the coming battle with the corporation and the government?
Does anyone seriously think that it will be easier for postal workers to negotiate with Treasury Board than Canada Post? The PSAC components who are fighting tooth and nail to save their sick leave benefits know that the Trudeau Liberals have not brought any “fresh air” into those negotiations.
Yes, Chopra, “the Harper appointee,” is out to carve Canada Post into pieces and hand it over to the private sector. But this latest rush to privatization was initiated by Moya Greene who was appointed by the Paul Martin Liberal government. Postal workers know from bitter experience that so-called negotiations with Canada Post during this period have been disastrous regardless of which of the two parties were in power.
And who can ever forget that it was Pierre Elliott Trudeau Sr. who was responsible for the jailing of CUPW National President Jean-Claude Parrot, when he refused to direct postal workers to obey federal legislation and return to work.
As this latest struggle of postal workers for dignity and the right to have a say in their wages and working conditions reaches its most crucial stage, workers cannot have any illusions that those who are the source of the problems will somehow come to their rescue.
Our collective memory teaches us that workers must rely on their own strength, organization and determination in the fight to defend their rights.
*Louis Lang was twice elected president of the Ottawa local of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers
Source: TML Weekly Information Project, August 27, 2016 – No. 33