File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Public Services and Procurement, looks through some mail after making an announcement regarding the vision for renewal at Canada Post.

Mail disruptions possible by Sept. 26 if postal workers approve job action

OTTAWA — While postal workers waited Monday to find out whether they’ll be on picket lines later this month, some of Canada Post’s clients weren’t taking chances on whether there would be a strike or lockout at the Crown agency.

Members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, CUPW, wrapped up voting Sunday on a call by the union for a strike mandate after months of contract talks failed to produce a collective agreement. Results of two separate votes are expected to be released Tuesday.

But even before the final votes were cast, companies like Enbridge Gas Distribution Inc. were encouraging customers to register for online billing, noting that bills must still be paid, regardless of whether paper copies could be delivered to households.

If CUPW members voted in favour of job action, they could legally strike by Sept. 26 after a “cooling off” period, but Canada Post would also be legally able to lock them out on the same date.

Neither side has said it would take such action.

CUPW said it received wide-ranging contract offers on Friday that it called “unacceptable.”

One offer covering urban employees included proposed wage increases of 1.5 per cent for each year of a four-year deal. The union said the offer also included what it described as “Trojan horse” language around job security.

Canada Post wants the ability to use temporary employees to cover vacancies, but for a potentially unlimited duration, the union said in a statement to its members Friday.

“There is no limit as to how long they could hold these vacancies and use temporary employees to cover these positions,” the statement said.

The urban offer would also reduce vacation time and eliminate pre-retirement leave for future employees, CUPW said.

The union said another offer to rural carriers would not settle key issues including job security and work hours.

“This offer does nothing to address the issues that are important to (rural carriers),” known as RSMCs, the statement said.

“True respect means full equality for RSMCs.”

Collective agreements governing working conditions for both sets of workers expired in December 2017.

Contract talks, aided by a third party conciliator, ramped up in early June and were moved to an undisclosed hotel in Ottawa.

A spokesman for Canada Post said the Crown agency would not comment on negotiations, except to say both sides were working hard to find common ground.

CUPW national president Mike Palecek warned early last month that union members should be prepared for “some type of job action” if contract talks fail.

A pay equity dispute involving the carriers’ 8,000 rural and 42,000 urban workers was also at the heart of the negotiations.

Arbitrator Maureen Flynn criticized the pay discrepancies at Canada Post as “fundamentally flawed” in a May ruling, in which she gave both sides until the end of August to reach a pay equity settlement.

That deadline has passed and Flynn is expected to impose a solution, although CUPW said there are other pay equity issues left to resolve outside of the arbitration process.

Canada Post, in issuing its second quarter financial statement last month, estimated that a settlement could saddle the agency with a one-time hit to its bottom line in the range of a quarter billion dollars.

The agency has recently seen a boom in its parcel distribution business while letter mail volumes have plummeted.

Among its demands at the bargaining table, CUPW also wants the Crown agency to bolster its line of services, including the return of postal banking to communities under-served by banks and other lending institutions.

Canada Post employees were last locked out in 2011, but were quickly legislated back to work by the previous Conservative government. In 2016, an Ontario judge ruled that legislation was unconstitutional.

Terry Pedwell, The Canadian Press

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