OTTAWA – As the clock ticks down on the Canadian Union of Postal Workers’ strike mandate, contract talks with Canada Post are going nowhere fast.
Each side blames the other for the stalled negotiations.
The union fears the Crown corporation is trying to run out the clock on the union’s strike mandate, which expires Aug. 25.
But Canada Post says the union is insisting on $1 billion worth of demands that are simply not affordable.
Once the strike mandate expires, CUPW president Mike Palecek says Canada Post management could unilaterally impose changes in working conditions and the union would be unable to respond.
“We’re concerned Canada Post is just trying to wait us out,” Palecek said in an interview Tuesday.
“We obviously can’t leave ourselves in a position where we’re not covered by a strike mandate, because that would give management the upper hand and we wouldn’t be able to respond to the actions that they might take.”
CUPW could take another strike vote but Palecek said that’s an expensive, time-consuming process and each strike mandate lasts only 60 days. The union intends to propose solutions that would make it possible to continue talks without having to take perpetual strike votes.
“We want to keep negotiations going and we’re looking at ways that could happen. Those discussions will happen at the bargaining table,” he said.
“We’ve said from the outset that our intent here isn’t a labour dispute. We want a negotiated collective agreement and that’s still our goal.”
Canada Post spokesman Jon Hamilton said expiry of the strike mandate shouldn’t be an issue if the union is sincere in wanting a negotiated deal. The threat of a possible strike is hurting business as customers look for long-term certainty about the delivery of parcels and direct mail, he added.
“The union maintaining their strike mandate certainly doesn’t help provide the certainty they’re looking for,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton acknowledged that the talks “have not made much progress” thus far. He said Canada Post has offered modest wage increases and a proposal aimed at securing the long-term sustainability of the postal workers’ pension plan, whereby new hires would get a less-generous, defined contribution plan while existing workers keep their defined benefits plan.
But, Hamilton said, CUPW has rejected the pension proposal and has put “more than a billion dollars in demands on the table and that would certainly impact our ability to provide affordable service to Canadians.”
An arbitrator on Tuesday accepted Canada Post’s proposal for a new collective agreement with postmasters and assistants in rural offices across the country, including the same change to the pension plan that CUPW is rejecting. CUPW is the only remaining employee group that hasn’t accepted the change.
Palecek said the decision imposed on the Canadian Postmasters and Assistants Association “underlines the reason why we (at CUPW) have been so intent to uphold our right to free collective bargaining and not put all of these decisions up to the whims of an arbitrator.”
“We believe that the only way to get a deal that everybody can live with is a negotiated agreement.”
In the past, federal governments have imposed binding arbitration to settle deadlocked negotiations between Canada Post and CUPW. But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to respect the important role played by unions and Palecek said he expects the Liberal government to uphold their constitutional right to collective bargaining.