Signs of progress in Canada Post labour dispute, experts say

If you were worried about sending your mom a birthday card or ordering something online because of a looming labour disruption at Canada Post, you should be OK for now, labour relations experts say.

CUPW wants no pension changes for new hires, saying younger workers should have secure pensions

Canadians should be OK to use Canada Post in the near future with the two sides returning to the negotiating table. (David Donnelly/CBC)

If you were worried about sending your mom a birthday card or ordering something online because of a looming labour disruption at Canada Post, you should be OK for now, labour relations experts say.

Maurice Mazerolle, director of the centre for labour management relations and associate professor at the Ted Rogers School of Management, said he's "reasonably confident" that mail service will continue in the short term.

"It sounds like they're narrowing the issues," Mazerolle said. "There may be the makings of a resolution."

Stephanie Ross, an associate professor at McMaster University's school of labour studies also thinks the ongoing conversation is a good sign.

"I think that Canada Post must realize that their strategy of using a lockout was not playing well with the public," Ross said in an email to CBC News. "After all, how can you say you want to maintain a service that you yourself are willing to disrupt with a lockout?"

Even if negotiations fail, either side is still required to give 72-hours' notice of a work stoppage. 

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One of the biggest issues between Canada Post and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) has been pensions.

Canada Post wants to change the pension scheme for new hires, moving them to a defined contribution plan instead of a defined benefit plan. The union wants to maintain the defined benefits.

Mazerolle said they may have been able to come to an agreement on the pension issue, with CUPW having to change its demand.

"It's becoming increasingly difficult to keep these defined benefits plans, despite the company still making money."

A bigger factor, Mazerolle said, is that Canada Post has already settled contracts with two other unions that change the terms of pension plans.

Pension precedent

"There's a precedent here," Mazerolle said, adding CUPW may have a hard time arguing that its members are different than those represented by other unions.

Ross isn't so confident that CUPW will change its stance on pensions.

"Only a very aggressive strategy on Canada Post's part will likely move the union off the principle of an equal pension for all union members," she said. 

"I also think that the union has been very successful at framing this round of bargaining as about intergenerational equity — younger workers should have secure pensions, too."

She also questions Canada Post's argument about pension costs.

"I also think the consistent profitability of the postal service year after year makes the employer's affordability argument very weak," Ross said.

Pay equity

The other negotiation issue has been pay equity between rural and urban carriers, especially because the majority of rural carriers are women.

Mazerolle points out that if it really is a pay equity issue, then it's not a negotiating issue, it's a legal one.

"That's the law. The employer has to obey the law," he said.

"It may never have started off to be a female-dominated job class, but over the years and over time more and more women were hired into it. "There may have always been a distinction [between rural and urban carriers]…. Does it now become a pay equity issue?"

In an email to CBC News, CUPW said Canada Post has a history of extensive delays for pay equity issues.

Geoff Bickerton, research director at CUPW, said a pay equity complaint from the Public Service Alliance of Canada took 28 years to settle, and a complaint filed in 1993 by the Canadian Postmasters and Assistants has still not reached a tribunal.

"The issue with the rural and suburban mail carriers is very simple. They already work on a system based on wages considerably less than letter carriers who do the same work. It is a matter of raising their wages and providing similar benefits," Bickerton said. "Exactly the type of process which occurs at negotiations."

If Canada Post and CUPW are actually narrowing in on the issues, one of the final steps will be making it appear that everyone — the union, Canada Post and the taxpayers — all win, Mazerolle said.