Toronto, Montreal next postal strike targets

About 15,000 postal workers will walk off the job in Toronto and Montreal, the next targets of ongoing rolling strikes across the country.

Union accuses Canada Post of trying to trigger full strike, back-to-work legislation

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers says it can't accept Canada Post demands for concessions. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

Around 15,000 postal workers will walk off the job at midnight ET in Toronto and Montreal, the next targets of ongoing rolling strikes across the country.

The 24-hour job action in Canada's two largest cities comes as Canada Post says it has lost tens of millions of dollars since the rotating strikes began on June 2.

Earlier, the postal service said sharply lower mail volumes, which it blamed on the disruption, were causing it to reduce most delivery services to three days a week in urban areas across the country.

But the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, representing some 50,000 postal workers, accused the Crown corporation of trying to trigger a full general strike by means of the service reduction in order to force the federal government to bring in back-to-work legislation.  

Canada Post spokesman Jon Hamilton said the service has seen direct revenues drop by $65 million since the walkouts began.

"Unfortunately, the union's activities and the uncertainty caused by seven months of negotiations without resolution is chipping away at our business," Hamilton told CBC News. "We can't continue to take on those kinds of losses without reducing our costs."

Meanwhile, CUPW national president Denis Lemelin said Canada Post has effectively brought in a "partial lockout" by reducing delivery service to three days a week.

"Management is penalizing our members for exercising their right to strike," Gerry Deveau, CUPW national director for the Ontario region said in a statement released Monday evening.

"Reducing the work schedule to three days a week creates hardship for postal workers and their families," he said.

CUPW national president and chief negotiator Denis Lemelin says Canada Post wants to provoke a national strike in a bid to encourage the federal government to introduce back-to-work legislation. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Lemelin insisted the rolling strikes have affected only about 30 per cent of the Canadian population so far, while plenty of mail in the system awaits delivery. The union chief also displayed photographs to reporters of full mail rooms that he said raised questions about Canada Post's volume claims.

"The government has to send them a clear message to sit and negotiate and maybe it will be a different ball game," he said. "About a general strike, we will evaluate the situation."

'It ain't Christmas'

Canada Post's Hamilton said the agency would continue to staff based on volumes, which he insisted have taken a "huge hit" during the job action.

"For the union to pretend that the strike they're engaged in isn't having an impact on customers across the country is really dishonest," Hamilton said. "Anybody that's walked around the facilities and taken a full and honest look could see that it ain't Christmas these days."

The rotating strike hit the following 10 locations starting late Sunday night:

  • Corner Brook, N.L.
  • Fredericton.
  • Sydney, N.S., as well as North Sydney, Sydney Mines, New Waterford and Glace Bay.
  • Quebec's Mauricie region (including Trois-Rivières and Shawinigan).
  • Sherbrooke, Que.
  • Cornwall, Ont.
  • Niagara Falls, Ont.
  • Windsor, Ont.
  • Regina.
  • Nanaimo, B.C.

Service resumed Monday in Red Deer, Alta., where postal workers had been on strike over the weekend.

The CUPW has offered to suspend its targeted walkouts if Canada Post reinstates the workers' collective agreement, which lapsed in January. But the Crown corporation refuses to do so.

Workers are 'pumped'

On the picket lines in Windsor, several striking postal workers said they were upbeat, despite there being few signs of an agreement on the horizon.

"Everybody's pumped," said one picket, who asked CBC News not to use his name over fears of repercussions from Canada Post. 

"We want a contract. We want a negotiated settlement. We don't want to be on the picket line, but we have to do what we have to do sometimes."

When asked Monday what impact the rotating strikes have had, Lemelin insisted there has been a "big gain" since 10 days ago, when many Canadians were questioning what role mail delivery has in today's digital age.

"There's nobody asking that question anymore," he said.

Issues remain unsettled

Canada Post and the 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. 

On salaries, 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.

The union said Canada Post has been profitable for the last 16 years and is misrepresenting its financial position. It acknowledges first-class mail volume is down, but said that overall, it amounts to only a seven per cent dip since 2006. 

The Crown corporation counters that measured on a per-address basis, mail volumes are down 17 per cent since 2006 and calls the union "out of touch" with the challenges facing the mail service.

"The uncertainty caused by seven months of negotiating and more than a week of union strike activity is hurting our customers, our employees and the business," Canada Post said in a written statement Sunday. 

"We cannot support any effort by the union to delay this process further or entertain costly and unrealistic demands that would cause rate increases for the customers."   

Workers denied medical benefits

The union also said Canada Post should be looking at new ways to expand its business — by following the lead of many European postal systems and getting into financial services, for example, particularly in rural areas where big banks have closed their branches — instead of slashing its pay scales and workforce.

CUPW also denounced the withdrawal of employee medical benefits, saying some of its members are facing huge bills for medications that would have been covered by their drug plan. 

Canada Post suspended its workers' health and dental coverage when the union issued its strike notice in May.

With files from The Canadian Press