'A question of fairness': Clock runs out for Canada Post, union to reach pay equity agreement

An arbitrator is prepared to impose a decision now that Canada Post and its biggest union didn't come to an agreement over longstanding pay inequities between mostly male urban letter carriers, and their female rural and suburban counterparts.

Canada Post interim president and CEO calls pay disparity on the basis of gender 'wholly unacceptable'

An arbitrator gave Canada Post and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers 90 days to reach an agreement on a pay equity dispute. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

Canada Post and its biggest union are headed to arbitration after a deadline for the two sides to settle a longstanding pay-equity dispute expired Thursday at 12 p.m. ET.

According to the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, about 8,000 rural and suburban letter carriers — who are mostly female — earn at least 25 per cent less than their majority-male urban colleagues.

On May 31, arbitrator Maureen Flynn found both types of employees do the same work, but don't get the same kind of compensation. She gave the two parties 90 days to come up with an agreement on pay.

Now that the deadline has passed, Flynn is expected to rule on the matter.

The parties are still in disagreement over what the wage will be going forward and how much retroactive compensation rural and suburban mail carriers should receive dating back to January 1, 2016.

"We feel like second-class citizens," said Nancy Gizen, a Regina rural and suburban mail carrier. 

"I'm very proud to work for Canada Post ... I just wish we got paid for it properly."

'Long struggle'

Gizen said that when she became a Canada Post employee in 2004, she was told she would eventually get compensated as much as her urban counterparts.

But 14 years later, she's still waiting for the Crown corporation to pay up.

"It's been a long struggle," said Cathy Kennedy, a national representative for the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. 

"Sometimes it's exciting because the women are finally close to getting some justice and being treated like the men, but then it's frustrating that you're so close. It's like you're trying to reach for something and you just haven't got it yet. So it's mixed, mixed feelings."

Nancy Gizen delivers mail to Canada Post customers in suburban and rural areas of Regina. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

Up until 2004, rural and suburban mail carriers had contract delivery positions with Canada Post and were often part-time.

They negotiated their first collective agreement with Canada Post in 2003 and it took effect on Jan. 1, 2004.

Urban workers receive an hourly rate, while rural and suburban workers' pay is based mainly on the number of delivery stops they make and how far they travel.

Projected $242-million loss for Canada Post

The postal service has built a $242-million loss before taxes into its latest quarterly results to cover the anticipated costs of a settlement, but noted the number could be revised depending on the final outcome.

"That gives us a sense of the actual cost of gender discrimination," said Stephanie Ross, associate professor in the School of Labour Studies at McMaster University.

"It seems like Canada Post's profitability is based on gender-discrimination against women that they employ. Women workers and rural workers in this case basically have been subsidizing Canada Post's profits for decades and it's a question of fairness"

Canada Post declined an interview request because deliberations are still ongoing. 

In an email statement sent to CBC News, Canada Post interim president and CEO Jessica McDonald said the Crown corporation would like to see a final resolution reached as quickly as possible and that it welcomes the upcoming arbitration ruling. 

"Pay equity is a matter of basic human rights and is fundamental to the values of Canada Post," wrote McDonald.

"Any disparity of pay on the basis of gender is wholly unacceptable for the company."


Olivia Stefanovich

Senior reporter

Olivia Stefanovich is a senior reporter for CBC's Parliamentary Bureau based in Ottawa. She previously worked in Toronto, Saskatchewan and northern Ontario. Connect with her on Twitter at @CBCOlivia. Story tips welcome: