Ottawa moves to stop postal dispute

Calgary postal workers are hoping the union and Canada Post can iron out a collective agreement before being forced to return to the job by looming back-to-work legislation.

"We are not thrilled. We are better off if we can negotiate our own collective agreement, but once this starts, our hands are pretty close to being tied," said Anna Beale, CUPW Calgary local president, as she gathered Wednesday outside the city's main depot with dozens of other workers holding "Locked Out" signs.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Labour Minister Lisa Raitt announced in the House of Commons on Wednesday that the government was tabling back-towork-legislation to end the labour dispute at Canada Post, arguing that the action is needed to protect Canadians and the economy.

This came a day after Canada Post halted operations nationwide and locked out nearly 50,000 workers, and a day after Ottawa announced it would be ending another national strike involving Air Canada employees with back-to-work legislation.

Normally, when legislative notice is given, the government cannot introduce the bill for 48 hours.

Beale questioned what spurred the government to suddenly take action on the Canada Post dispute two weeks after the rotating strikes started.

"(Tuesday), we were a blip on their radar and (Wednesday), it's practically a national emergency."

Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, which represents 145,000 workers, criticized the government's actions in both national strikes.

"Using back-to-work legislation removes the incentive for the employer to come to the table and negotiate. With the hands of the workers tied, the employer can impose an unjust and unpopular deal that fails to address the issues that led to the dispute," McGowan said in a news release.

Meanwhile, Canada Post spent the day sealing street letterboxes as part of the lockout, said company spokesman Jon Hamilton.

Hamilton said Canada Post was forced to cease operations after seeing losses of close to $100 million since the rotating strikes began.

He said the lockout was also initiated because there was some "heightened activity" hampering the ability for both employees and customers to get safely in and out of postal buildings.

In addition, Hamilton said there has been no movement at the negotiating table.

Corporate post offices have closed. Rural and franchise offices will remain open to process mail orders and ID verification, but no mail will be "inducted," or put through the system, he said.

Any mail already in the system will be inventoried, secured and prepared for when mail operations resume, Hamilton said.

If anyone tries to mail letters in the Calgary today, those items could be "stranded," Hamilton warned.

Rural carriers, who are part of a different bargaining unit, can continue delivering mail that has been sorted for the next few days, as long as they can move safely in out and out of post office buildings, Hamilton said.

Socio-economic cheques will also be delivered through regular mail by volunteer letter carriers Monday, Hamilton said.

He said he doesn't know how much mail is stuck in the system as millions of pieces of mail are normally processed in Canada on a daily basis.

Beale estimated that about 300 monotainers -large steel bins measuring about 1.2 metres in length, width and height -containing magazines and ad mail, as well as heaps of mail near the letter carrier cases, are piling up at Calgary's main plant.

In response to the postal disruption, Service Canada issued a news release encouraging clients who receive employment insurance benefits by mail to sign up for direct deposit payment or to arrange to pick up their benefit payments from a distribution centre.

Service Alberta suggested the same thing with clients collecting provincial cheques, and also initiated its emergency mail plan starting today to ensure "critical mail" can continue to flow between Albertans and provincial departments.

Calgarians can drop off essential correspondence addressed to provincial departments at Monarch Messenger Services, 4710 78th Ave. S.E., on weekdays between 8: 15 a.m. and 4: 30 p.m. No stamps are required, but the sender and recipient's full addresses should be clearly marked.

Albertans expecting essential mail from the province will be contacted with a pickup date and location.

The union is asking for a four-year contract with a wage increase of 3.3 per cent in the first year followed by 2.75 per cent in the subsequent years. It also wants a short-term disability plan instead of banking sick days.

The company has proposed a 1.9 per cent wage increase per year, with wages starting at $19 an hour and capping at $26, as well as a benefit pension plan and up to seven weeks' vacation.

Calgary Herald, Thurs Jun 16 2011
Byline: Clara Ho

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