50,000 Canada Post workers could potentially be locked out by their employer or go on strike, and mail delivery would be interrupted for an indeterminate period. How likely is a job action, why is it on the table, and what happens if it goes ahead? Read on to find out.
Update, August 31st: After two 24-hour extensions, Canada Post and CUPW have “voluntarily” reached a tentative agreement. No details have been given other than that the agreement is for two years (when four-year agreements were the norm). The agreements will now have to be ratified by Canada Post’s directors and by CUPW’s members in the bargaining unit.
Update, August 29th: Last Thursday night, CUPW issued a 72-hour strike notice, meaning they could go on strike if no deal was reached by the end of Sunday, August 28th. A federally appointed mediator was brought in on Friday, and the union agreed to extend its deadline by 24 hours at the mediator’s request. CUPW has stated that services to Canadians would be little affected in the event of a strike, but Canada Post disagrees and warns that there would be a major impact on business.
Update, July 10th: Canada Post has withdrawn its 72-hour lockout notice, which was to take effect on Monday, July 11th. Mail service will continue without interruption while the corporation and the union negotiate.
Update, July 6th: Canada Post has extended its lockout notice to Monday at 12:01am ET. The corporation has made an offer to submit to binding arbitration, which the union has refused, claiming that the corporation has bargained in bad faith.
Update, July 4th: Canada Post has issued 72 hours notice to lock its workers out. Both sides are still negotiating, but this means that mail delivery could cease on Friday at 12:01am ET. Canada Post has announced that Old Age Security, Canada Pension Plan, Working Income Tax Benefit and the Canada Child Benefit cheques are “essential” and will be delivered even in the event of a work disruption, but no other mail will be delivered. Make plans for alternate mail and parcel delivery beginning on Friday. FedEx, UPS, Purolator, CanPar, Dicom, Loomis, and DHL are operating as normal. The Government of Canada has vowed not to intervene with back-to-work legislation.
Update, July 3rd: Both the union and the corporation remain at the bargaining table. The corporation presented new proposals about a week ago, and the union gave a counter-offer on Friday. No strike or lockout can take place without 72 hours notice, which has not yet been given.
Negotiations between the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, or CUPW, and the Crown Corporation have been ongoing since July 2015, and are now at the final stage.
So, how likely is a service disruption?
No strike can legally occur before July 2nd, when the current collective agreement runs out. Strikes that occur within the lifetime of a collective agreement — known as “wildcat strikes” — are illegal, and the union can receive hefty fines. However, just because the collective agreement expires on July 2nd doesn’t mean a strike is inevitable.
The support of the membership is necessary for a job action, and generally unions like to get a very strong mandate before taking the nuclear option of striking. However, a strong mandate is also a signal to the employer that the workforce is serious, and can often spur further bargaining that leads to a resolution. In this case, 94 per cent of urban postal workers and 91 per cent of rural workers voted in favour of a strike, which is a very strong mandate. If CUPW feels that their demands will not be met by July 2nd, a strike is likely.
Another possibility is a lockout, the opposite of a strike, where the employer refuses to allow the employees to work. As a strike aims at forcing an employer to make concessions by denying them their labour force, a lockout aims at forcing the union to make concessions by denying its members their livelihoods. CUPW has said that they have not indicated a strike, but they fear Canada Post is moving to a lockout. The union asked for an extension to contract negotiations on June 28th, but it was turned down.
What happens if there’s a strike?
Canada Post has warned that to ensure delivery by June 30th, at time of writing (June 29th) local mail must be sent by Expedited Parcel or Xpresspost, and national/regional mail must be sent Priority.
Many businesses are already turning to courier firms for important deliveries as a contingency. There are also alternatives such as FedEx, UPS, Purolator, CanPar, Dicom, Loomis, and DHL. Changing to an alternate delivery service will be disruptive to many businesses, but for those whose business depends on timely delivery, there is little choice. This may also result in delivery fee increases both to customers and from suppliers. You can sign up for email updates from Canada Post here.
Many local governments are urging residents and businesses to pay taxes and bills online. For details on services from the Government of Ontario during a postal strike, see their website.
The last Canada Post labour disruption lasted three weeks, in 2011, before the federal government passed back-to-work legislation — an Act ordering employees back to work. However, the Supreme Court of Ontario later found this legislation to be unjust, so the current government may not follow the same route.
What’s the problem?
Canada Post is offering no changes to pensions or job security for all current employees, and an increase in take-home pay. Future hires are to receive a Defined Contribution pension plan instead to address long-term pension challenges. The Corporation is also looking to hire temporary and part-time workers for weekend and evening parcel delivery, which is currently done by paying double-time to delivery workers. Their full position can be read here.
CUPW, on the other hand, complains that Canada Post’s pay increases are no more than the rate of inflation, and that the Corporation is essentially creating a two-tiered workforce where some workers are paid more than others and receive better benefits for the same job, and where large disparities exist between the rural and urban workforce. The union has many other demands that are not being met besides, and their full position can be read here.
Obviously, a strike or a lockout would be disruptive to business and bad for the economy. We hope that CUPW and Canada Post can reach a mutually acceptable agreement before July 2nd, and we ask negotiators on both sides, on behalf of the business community, to make every effort possible.