‘Ottawa’ Canada Post set for labour disruption as early as this weekend: ‘They are asking us to sell out our future co-workers’
Pensions for new hires at the post office appear to be the main sticking point as talks between Canada Post and its 50,000 unionized workers go down to the wire, with the post office warning that mail movement could stop on July 2.
Canada Post, which turned a $44-million profit in the first quarter of 2016, is insisting that new employees get a less generous pension package than the one offered to existing letter carriers and postal plant workers. This infuriates the postal union.
“They are asking us to sell out our future co-workers and agree to major cuts,” Mike Palecek, president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, said from Ottawa.
Canada Post and its workers have been negotiating for seven months, including three months of talks at the Marriott Hotel in downtown Ottawa.
The post office, a crown corporation, has made up for declines in letter mail, and now delivers two out of every three purchases that Canadians make online. Canada Post grew its parcel revenue by 12.5 per cent in the first three months of 2016.
“They are enjoying healthy profits, so we don’t see any justification for the cuts that they are putting forward,” Palecek said.
In last year’s federal election the Liberals promised to halt Canada Post’s cuts to home delivery of mail. After its victory the Trudeau government requested that Deepak Chopra, chief executive of Canada Post, resign. Outgoing prime minister Stephen Harper had extended Chopra’s contract by another five years, effective Feb. 1, 2016, just before the election call. Chopra has refused to step down.
“There was an election where the public rejected austerity and cuts at the post office,” Palecek said. “But we still have Harper appointees running the post office.”
Millions of Canadians rely on Canada Post to receive and pay bills. Marilyn Levy, a retiree in Montreal who does not own a computer, has already called Bell Canada to warn them that, “If you don’t bring me my bill, you don’t get paid.”
Entrepreneurs should step into the breach, she said.
“Why don’t they have a little truck that goes around and brings us our bill?” she asked. “It’s not rocket science. Give young people work.”
Liz Attfield, a senior director at Stephen Thomas Ltd., which creates fundraising mail for non-profits such as the Canadian Cancer Society and Médecins Sans Frontières, says a postal disruption will hurt charities.
“Charities won’t be getting those fundraising cheques that they need to provide support and resources to people who need them around the world,” she said.
Her company also pays suppliers and receives payments through the mail.
The two sides in the postal dispute appear far apart.
“We face a $6.2-billion pension solvency deficit,” Jon Hamilton, a spokesman for Canada Post, said from Ottawa. “The government gave us relief from making pension solvency payments, which will expire in 2017. In 2017 we could have to pay $1 billion a year in pension contributions.”
The post office also wants to create temporary and part-time jobs to deliver packages that Canadians purchase in the evening or on weekends.
“Paying double-time to offer that service in peak times is not viable in the long term,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton said the union has not yet responded to its offer.
“This should be an all-out 24-hour a day discussion to get a deal,” he said. “We are prepared to work around the clock.”
Canada Post workers last held rotating walkouts in 2011; Canada Post quickly locked the workers out and shut down the mail system. Hamilton said that could happen again.
Palecek said his members have voted to strike but would prefer to keep talking. The union wants the post office to extend talks for two weeks, but the post office refuses.
“We are not looking to kick the can down the road,” Hamilton said. “Any further delay makes the uncertainty worse.”
Along with protecting benefits, the union wants Canada Post to offer banking services, as is common for post offices across Europe. The union also wants rural letter carriers, mainly women, to earn the same wages as urban workers, mainly men, whose wages are about 28 per cent higher.