Local postal workers are fearful of back-to-work legislation, which would end the Canada Post lockout but leave the fate of negotiations in the hands of an arbitrator.
“Basically it’s like being kicked in the ass,” said Ed Evans, Local 842 president for Trail and Rossland.
“The legislation has us all very upset, that’s for sure, and as far as other unions are concerned, too, this is a very scary thing that’s happened in a country that’s supposed to have democratic rights.”
Evans was in Rossland Monday with a handful of posties who manned the outside of the postal office on an information line, notifying the public that workers have been shut out.
While the company made the call for a nation-wide lockout last Wednesday, the parties agreed to send some staff back to work Monday to ensure residents received social assistance cheques in the mail, resulting in five letter carriers and one sorter back on the clock briefly in Trail.
“We’re not into greed, we just want a fair share of profits and sustainability as a postal system, especially in smaller centres like Trail and Rossland, we have to protect what’s here,” he said.
Meanwhile, the provincial government announced it is implementing an alternate distribution plan for June income-assistance payments.
Cheques for clients who normally receive their income-assistance payments through the mail will be available for pick-up at ministry field offices and Service BC offices as of Wednesday.
Clients must bring valid B.C. identification with them in order to claim their cheque.
While talks between the union and the corporation continue, both sides agree negotiations for a new collective agreement have hit a wall.
The biggest issues include hours, sick days, working conditions, a two-tiered wage system and pensions.
The Canadian Union of Postal Workers was controlling a rotating strike in hopes of sending a clear message to the company when it came to negotiating a deal. However, the uncertainty of service only led the company to pullback mail service and eventually lockout employees completely.
Opposition New Democrats have accused the Conservatives of stepping on the process of collective bargaining, declaring that Canada Post’s lockout was what crippled the mail service, not the rolling strikes by postal workers.
“It’s not us that shut the whole system down and within hours, legislation is coming onto the table so this is scary for other unions as well, it takes their bargaining rights away,” said Evans. “Our whole process of going this route and representing the workers as a union could be gone. As soon as that bill is signed, our democratic right to bargain with our employer is gone with a stroke of the pen.”
The Crown Corporation is hopeful that this action will bring the union back to the table to have serious discussions, according to Anick Losier a spokesperson from Canada Post.
“The rotating strike – while it may look on paper that they were not affecting everybody – frankly it really impaired the future of the company and not only that, it was really having a devastating effect on consumer confidence,” said Losier.
In light of the rotating strike, she said customers were opting not to use Canada Post at all and the company was also losing major clients, who were canceling their contracts and going to competitors.
“We needed to precipitate this and we needed to take some heated action so that we could stop the uncertainty,” she said. “It was already getting upwards of $100 million in revenue loss so we couldn’t wait any more for the union to decided to negotiate.
“Bottom line is if we go into a deficit, taxpayers will be the ones paying the brunt and for us, that’s just not an option.”
The federal government legislated striking postal workers back to work in 1997 – the last time the union went on strike – after they were off the job for two weeks.
Should a resolution not be made between the two parties, Evans suspects the back-to-work legislation could have employees back on duty by Friday.