Postal workers postpone planned strike action for 24 hours

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Postal workers have postponed planned strike action for a day as mediated negotiations with Canada Post continue into another week.

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), which represents 51,000 postal workers across its urban and rural and suburban mail carrier units, extended its 72-hour strike deadline about an hour before it was due to expire at 12 am Monday. 

The union announced Sunday rotating strike action restricting members from working overtime would begin in Alberta and the Northwest Territories today. However, it has agreed to stay the action for 24 hours to enable negotiations through today. Crown mediator William Kaplan was appointed to assist negotiations on Friday.

Contract negotiations between the union and crown corporation began nine months ago. Failure to reach agreement on key issues like pay equity, pensions and staffing at Canada Post outlets are underpinned by differing visions of the future of the post office by each of the respective parties.

CUPW, which has repeatedly stated its desire to avoid strike action, has tied its demands at the bargaining table to its expansion plan for Canada Post.

Launched in February, the Delivering Community Power plan outlines an expanded national post office with services like postal banking, elder care and local medication and produce delivery. Maintenance of home delivery and operations at current postal outlets are key features in the plan. Switching the corporation's operations to renewable energy sources is also part of the union's vision.

Mike Palecek, CUPW president, told CBC this morning that a deal "may be possible" today.

When asked about the sticking points around CUPW's pension plan, Palecek said the union was not asking for anything different when it came to its members' retirement security. 

"We’re actually asking for status quo on the pensions. It is management which is asking for major cuts for the next generation."

Palecek also noted the union's pension plan was relatively modest.

"We’re not talking gold-plated pensions here. The top pension for postal workers is about $27,000 a year." 

Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who resigned as an MP last week, is entitled to an MP's pension of about $127,000 per year. When he turns 67, he will be eligible for a $58,000 annual top-up for the prime minister's pension.

Palecek has said that Canada Post management is continuing to pursue austerity measures despite nearly 20 years of profitable operations -- citing the corporation's attitude to its profit margins as a major roadblock in negotiations.

"We will not be bullied by a corporation that is supposed to be providing people with public service, that is raking in millions in profits every year, and that is willfully and needlessly waging war upon tens of thousands of workers and their families," Palecek said in July.

On Friday, financial results for the second quarter of 2016 showed Canada Post recorded a profit before tax of $1 million. Figures for the first half of the year showed a profit before tax of $45 million for the corporation, compared to a loss before tax of $7 million for the same period last year. In 2015, Canada Post recorded a profit before tax of $63 million, following a haul of $194 million in before-tax profit for the previous year. Overall, the corporation has recorded profits for 19 of the past 22 years, with negative results in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

Despite this, Canada Post management -- headed by Deepak Chopra -- has remained firm in its stance on cost-cutting measures.

"The reality is that this is a challenging time at the post office. We have some growth in our parcel business, but there's a lot of competition in that business," Canada Post spokesman Jon Hamilton told CBC on Monday.

"The parcel growth is great, but that's in a competitive space -- we need to be mindful of our labour costs."

According to David Camfield, labour studies and sociology professor at the University of Manitoba, the employer's demands "reflect management's ongoing effort to make work at [the] crown corporation more like work in the private sector".

"The employer has proposed that all future regular employees in both bargaining units will have a defined contribution pension plan instead of joining Canada Post’s existing defined benefit pension plan," Camfield stated in an article for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

"On top of weakening urban workers' vacation entitlements and health and safety training, Canada Post wants to shrink the number of full-time workers with open-ended contracts and increase the number of part-time and temporary staff. It also wants the right to close any or all of the close to 500 retail outlets it still runs. It wants to eliminate Appendix T of the urban collective agreement, which deals with service expansion and innovation and provides for pilot projects," he wrote.

Image credit: Flickr/Ontariofedlabour

Teuila Fuatai was rabble's labour beat reporter for 2015-2016.

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