Canada’s largest postal worker union, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), decided on October 5 to endorse two tentative collective agreements with the Canada Post Corporation (CPC): one would cover rural postal workers, the other urban.
The Union has said that its decision is largely the result of legislation passed by Parliament in June 2011, which mandated union members’ return to work and included penalties for non-compliance ranging from $1,000 a day for a single worker to $100,000 a day for the whole union.
In a post on the CUPW website about the tentative agreement for the urban unit, CUPW President Denis Lemelin said that the Union “would never have agreed to these changes if [it] had the right to strike.”
The 2011 back-to-work legislation also stipulated that a government-appointed arbitrator would choose between offers put forward by the CPC and CUPW without considering a compromise.
The tentative agreement between the CPC and CUPW was reached without an arbitrator.
In a press release issued last Friday, Conservative Labour Minister Lisa Raitt stated, “I have always said that the best solution to any labour dispute is one that the parties reach themselves.”
The first appointed arbitrator, former Ontario judge Coulter Osborne, quit when the Union filed a court challenge because he was not bilingual. The second arbitrator, Guy Dufort, was ordered off the case by a Federal Court judge after CUPW raised concerns about his background as a Canada Post lawyer and Conservative Party candidate. Both were appointed by Raitt.
According to Lemelin, the Union had to decide between “the decision of an arbitrator…or trying to achieve something.”
CUPW members will be voting from November 13 to December 19. Should the agreements be ratified, they will put an end to the two-year struggle that was precipitated in 2010 when the CPC introduced “Modern Post,” an attempt to modernize and streamline mail-delivery.
According to the Union, the Modern Post initiative would have put hundreds out of work and resulted in harsher working conditions.
The collective agreement between CPC and CUPW expired in January 2011.
CPC spokesperson Anick Losier told The Daily that the Crown corporation is “very pleased that we have hit this new milestone and we now need to work together to transform our business, which is certainly suffering in the face of digital alternatives.”
For the Union, the two agreements would essentially achieve the maintenance of basic rights and benefits accorded in previous agreements, as well as protection for new hires.
Among the Union’s victories in the collective agreement for the urban unit are the protection of paid half-hour lunches, the rejection of the CPC’s previous attempt to replace retiree benefits with a spending account, and entitlement to a defined benefit pension plan for future employees.
“The most important thing is the pension plan…the second one is that we still have job security so people can plan their lives and that the working conditions will be the same,” Lemelin told The Daily. “I think we achieved to protect what we have.”
Lemelin also added that even if the agreements were ratified, the Union would still be busy.
CUPW filed a constitutional challenge in the Ontario Supreme Court last October, which argued that the back-to-work legislation violated the freedom to associate as guaranteed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“As workers and citizens of this country, we […] deserve to be respected, we deserve to have a government that is really looking after the people and not only protecting big corporations,” said Lemelin.