The Corporation is threatening to lock its union workers out over declining volumes of mail and parcels that are the direct result of its threat to lock the workers out.
By Ryan McGreal
Published July 07, 2016
Canada Post Corporation and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) have been negotiating a new collective agreement since last November, 2015.
The previous contract drastically reduced sick leave benefits and included no pay increases for the life of the contract. It was imposed on the union after the Corporation locked them out in 2011 and then the Harper Government legislated them back to work.
This time around, after several months of unproductive bargaining, the company presented CUPW with an offer that would refuse to address the 30 percent pay inequity of mostly-female Rural and Suburban Mail Carriers (RSMC) compared to mostly-male Street Letter Carriers (SLC); replace the defined benefit pension plan with a defined contribution pension plan for new employees; and include only very modest pay increases below the rate of inflation.
CUPW presented the offer to its members for a vote, and over 90 percent voted to reject it. However, the union has pledged that it remains committed to negotiating a new collective agreement and that its members will not go on strike.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, July 5 the Corporation issued 72-hours' notice that it will be in a position to lock the union members out effective Friday, July 8.
Astonishingly, the Corporation justifies locking out its workers and shutting down its operations because of "rapidly deteriorating volumes" of mail and parcels due to customers preparing for a possible work stoppage.
In other words, Canada Post has manufactured the very crisis it is using as an excuse to respond to the crisis with a lockout.
Meanwhile, the Federal government is currently undertaking a public review of Canada Post to develop a strategic plan for its future growth as a public service. However, the current senior management is driven by a narrow, business-oriented focus on cutting costs.
Canada post 'Community Mail Box' on Inverness near Knyvet (RTH file photo)
Ugly politics are on full display here. As a crown corporation, Canada Post is ultimately managed by the Federal Government, and its CEO, Deepak Chopra, was appointed by the former Harper Government.
An order to extend his political appointment was made on July 28, 2015, just a week before the writ of election was dropped. That order did not actually take effect until February 1, 2016 - long after the election that replaced the Harper government with a Liberal majority.
As part of its commitment to adopt open, merit-based political appointments, the Liberal government sent letters to 33 last-minute Harper appointees and asked them to step down so that their replacements could be selected through the new process.
Sian Matthews, chair of Canada Post's board of directors, responded with a letter touting Chopra's qualifications for the job (he previously worked at Pitney Bowes, an American e-commerce and shipping company) and denying that his appointment was political.
There was once a time when unions were understood to fight to improve the working conditions, pay and benefits of employees in Canada. Those improvements had the effect of improving conditions for all workers, not just union members.
Back in 1981, CUPW went on strike to achieve paid maternity leave for its female members, the first Canadian union to do so. The right to paid maternity leave was eventually adopted across Canada under the Employment Insurance program and extended to both parents.
Now, unions are pilloried merely for trying to hang onto the benefits their forebears won for us, let alone seeking to achieve new improvements.
Canada Post wants to push new hires from the current defined benefit pension plan to a defined contribution plan. A defined benefit (DB) plan specifies how much an employee will receive in pension income once they retire. In contrast, retirement income under a defined contribution (DC) plan depends on how well the plan is doing, eliminating income security in retirement after an employee has paid into the plan for their entire career.
Under a DB plan, the employer assumes the financial risk to ensure the plan is funded, whereas under a DC plan the financial risk is offloaded entirely onto individual employees.
This trend toward DC plans started around 15 years ago as part of a broader shift toward a more neoliberal, individualistic approach to public policy that has widened and deepened inequality in our society.
Just because the shift from DB to DC has recently been widespread in today's labour market, that doesn't make it okay. All workers deserve predictable pension income, but a whole generation of younger workers today will be at the mercy of the stock market once they are old enough to retire.
In this age of quick factoids and ugly commentary, there is no shortage of misinformation on just about any issue you can imagine, and the Canada Post labour dispute is no different. Here are some facts to try and counter the nonsense:
Canada Post is financially self-sufficient. Your tax dollars do not pay your letter carrier's wages; that comes entirely from revenues generated by letter mail, parcel and flyer delivery.
Canada Post is profitable. The company earned $99 million in profits in 2015 and has been profitable nearly every year out of the past 20. As a public service, Canada Post should be revenue-neutral and maximizing service, not aiming to maximize profits at the cost of reduced service.
The job is hard. Like, really hard. My spouse is a letter carrier in Hamilton and her route includes 1,700 points of call and covers roughly 17 kilometres of walking a day, while carrying a satchel loaded with 20-30 lbs of mail. She does that during heat waves, like this week, when it's over 30 degrees Celsius out, and during the bitter cold of deep winter - and in all kinds of weather, including thunderstorms and blizzards. Most new employees end up quitting because the job is so difficult.
Postal service still matters. While the volume of letter mail has been falling, lots of correspondence - including legal documents - will still need to be delivered physically for the foreseeable future. Canada Post is the only company that moves mail between any address in any part of Canada to any other for a standard price, no matter how remote. No private company has Canada Post's reach or capacity, and competitors like UPS, FedEx and DHL are already struggling to accommodate the increase in parcels as businesses nervous about a lockout switch to competitors.
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