CUPW mulls escalation of postal strike to full, countrywide walkout

TORONTO — Canada’s postal workers are considering an escalation of their current round of rotating strikes but have so far stopped short of suggesting a full-blown national walkout will be the next step.

TORONTO — Canada’s postal workers are considering an escalation of their current round of rotating strikes but have so far stopped short of suggesting a full-blown national walkout will be the next step.

About 1,000 postal workers were off the job Tuesday in Moncton, N.B., and Victoria, the fifth day of rotating strikes that have already hit Montreal, Winnipeg and Hamilton, Ont.

Leaders at The Canadian Union of Postal Workers said they planned to meet later in the day to discuss strategy. Among the options under consideration is a strike at the national level, said Jeff Callaghan, CUPW national director of the Atlantic region.

“Our board is meeting later on, so we’ll make that determination if there’s an escalation or if we keep going with the rotating strikes,” Callaghan said in an interview.

“For the most part, we’re trying to lessen the impact on the communities that we serve, so we’ll make that determination once we meet.”

Meanwhile, Canada Post said Tuesday the strikes have already had a severe impact on its business, dropping mail volumes as much as 50 per cent since they began.

“This decline in volume comes at a time when the company is already struggling to address significant business challenges,” the corporation said in a statement.

“Canada Post does not understand why the Canadian Union of Postal Workers would willingly damage the business with strike action when the company has put a strong offer on the table.”

Both the Canadian Union of Postal Workers and negotiators for Canada Post have left the bargaining table and union officials say a mediator is working on scheduling a future date for when talks may resume. In an email Tuesday, Canada Post spokesman Jon Hamilton said the ball is sitting in the union’s court.

“We are waiting for the union to respond to our latest offer which includes wage increases, job security and a defined benefit pension and much more,” he wrote.

“This generous offer is what’s on the table, while the union continues their disruptive strike activities across the country.”

Canada Post said its latest offer includes annual wage increases that for current employees would bring the top wage rate to $26 an hour, job security, no changes to a defined benefit pension plan, medical benefits and “generous” vacation leave that tops out at seven weeks per year.

Future hires would get a starting wage of $19 an hour, rising to a maximum $26 an hour, up to six weeks vacation and a defined benefit pension by age 60.

“The package for new employees is still superior to the wages and benefits offered by competing logistic and delivery companies,” Canada Post said.

“Equally important, these changes will help Canada Post manage labour costs that take-up two-thirds of its revenues.”

Labour experts agree that a rotating strike strategy is an effective bargaining tool for a union because it keeps employers guessing and scrambling to prepare as it learns the union’s next move, but the tactic also has drawbacks that could drag a labour dispute out.

“The disadvantages are that it doesn’t bring the full force of workers’ bargaining power to bear — the bargaining power of the union is its greatest when all members withdraw their labour and try to use that to pressure the employer to move in negotiations,” said David Camfield, Associate Professor in the Department of Labour Studies at the University of Manitoba.

He said there are too many factors to predict how long the strike could last, including the potential of federal back-to-work legislation.

Larry Savage, a professor of labour studies and political science at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont. said that the rotating strikes have been drawing media and the public’s attention to a labour dispute that was previously low-profile and could end up being just a step to a full-out strike.

“The combination of strategies can be effective because rotating strikes allows the union to test the level of support across the country before deciding to allocate resources to a full-scale walkout nationally,” he said.

But even though the strikes have been localized so far, businesses are already suffering as customers forego making some purchases as they fear their package or cheque might get stuck in the mail, said Dan Kelly of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

Businesses are complaining that customers who would normally buy online are going to stores instead, he added.

“So some online retailers are starting to tell us that the threat of a (national) strike is actually causing an impact on their business, not the actual action of slowdown or stoppage that’s happened to date,” he said.