Nova Scotia

N.S. postal workers on the picket lines

Postal workers in Nova Scotia and across the country are on picket lines instead of on their mail routes.

Postal workers in Nova Scotia and across the country are on picket lines instead of on their mail routes.

After a series of rotating strikes, Canada Post abruptly locked out all its workers just before midnight and shut down operations nationwide.

The union representing 50,000 locked-out postal workers is blasting Canada Post's decision to suspend operations and halt mail service across the country as "irresponsible" following 12 days of rotating strikes.

Canada Post and CUPW held negotiations Saturday and into the night Sunday, facilitated by a mediator, but the two sides are still at odds on a host of issues, including new mail-processing technology the company wants to implement and wages for new hires.

Workers in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality were locked out earlier than most of the country because they refused to sign a picket line protocol agreement Tuesday.

Gordon MacDonald, president of the Breton local, said the demand was unwarranted.

He said the protocol local unions were asked to sign was unreasonable, and when locals refused, workers were locked out.

Union members' main focus

"The main focus for postal workers is our health and safety for our letter carriers, the two-tier wage system for new hires, our pensions, our sick leave is a big thing, these are the main topics," said MacDonald.

On the two-tier wage, the union has said the parties are "fairly close" on wages for regular employees, but Canada Post is pushing for a significant cut in the hourly rate for new hires, to as low as $18 from about $23.

In Halifax, postal workers showed up to work Wednesday morning expecting to be delivering mail.

Instead, they stood under a tent pitched to give them shelter from heavy rain at the main post office on Almon Street.

"They're saying we're in a deficit of $3.5 billion. It's because they spent the money on machines to sort letter mail — that they're saying is declining volume," said Brad King, a picket captain in front of the main Halifax post office.

"What we are doing is we are seeing the end of collective bargaining."

For the union, the fight is over fundamentals.

"You know they are going after our pensions, well they gave us a bonus this year. A bonus. They had to give us a bonus because they wanted their bonuses," said King.

While diminishing pension plans are often the topic of work disputes, but it's not often bonuses become a topic in these disputes.

Government is in talks about legislating the postal workers back to work.