Canada Post contract dispute could mean problems for Northerners
‘Any disruption to the postal services would be very dramatic here,’ says Whale Cove’s SAO
Trouble could be brewing for mail dependent communities in the North as negotiations stall between Canada Post and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers with both parties talking about the possibility of a disruption in services.
Employees could be locked out or on strike if an agreement between the crown corporation and the union isn't reached by July 2.
"Any disruption to the postal services would be very dramatic here because so many people depend on the postal service," said Mike Richards, senior administrative officer for the Nunavut hamlet of Whale Cove.
Mail service in Whale Cove is already hit and miss due to irregular flights, which mean the hamlet may not get mail delivery for three to four days at a time, said Richards.
"It will largely affect those people that do get pensions, the people that really need the support through Canada Post," said Richards.
There is an agreement in place for the delivery of federal cheques, such as pension and old age security, in the event of a mail disruption.
Bills and bill payments
Businesses are also concerned a disruption could affect delivery of customers' bills.
Cynthia Malchow, supervisor of customer accounting with ATCO Electric Yukon, says the company is asking its customers to pay bills directly or via electronic banking.
"We're hoping that people are going to understand that if they don't get their bill in the mail, that they will call our office to enquire about it. We will, if there's a strike, run an ad on the radio."
Malchow says ATCO Electric Yukon has almost 18,000 customers and 500 of those receive e-post bills. But, since Canada Post operates and maintains that site, she says it'll likely also be disrupted.
A week left for negotiations
Mike Palecek, the national president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, said negotiations are breaking down over "major cuts to benefits and job security."
The union says that Canada Post is a profitable Crown corporation.
"They made a profit of $44 million in the first quarter of this year, which puts them on track to do well better than their $100 million profit last year," said Palecek.
Canada Post says it is still negotiating in good faith.
"Negotiations unfortunately have a habit of coming down to the wire and this is no different," said Jon Hamilton, a spokesperson for Canada Post.
"We have a week left. Anyone that's followed negotiations knows that a week can be a lifetime when negotiating a new collective agreement, especially when it's the last week, so we're hopeful."
Hamilton said there's still a lot of work to do until the two sides can reach an agreement.
Union still pushing for postal banking
One issue the union is still pushing for is the idea of offering banking services through post offices — a service Canada Post offered for nearly a hundred years, right up into the 1960s.
"So far these discussions have fallen on deaf ears," said Palecek with the postal workers.
While the union and Canada Post negotiate a new collective agreement, the federal government has appointed a four-member independent panel to conduct a formal review of Canada Post. It will study a wide range of issues, including whether the Crown corporation should get back into the banking business.
"It's something that would work very well right here because we have hundreds and hundreds of communities across this country, particularly in the North, but in all sorts of rural areas, where they do not have a single bank branch, but they do have a post office," said Palecek.
Currently out of 25 communities in Nunavut, full banking services are available in six.
With files from Mike Salomonie and Nancy Thomson