Postal strike 'not over yet'

Marching through Edmonton's core, hundreds of angry postal workers and union leaders shouted their message loud and clear.

"We're working united, we'll never be defeated!" workers shouted on Tuesday outside of the downtown Canada Post depot.

Wearing signs such as "Harper is stealing from the working class," representatives from 29 unions protested the proposed back-to-work federal legislation that would order employees back to work immediately — negotiation or not.

"We're going to be the first ones to feel this, but people have to realize this isn't just about CUPW, or Air Canada — this is about working people in this country having some power and some strength," said Bev Ray, president of Edmonton Canadian Union Postal Workers (CUPW).

"(We're) not going away, (we're) not backing down and while this government might impose this legislation — it's not over yet."

Canada Post and CUPW have been negotiating since the beginning of June after Canada Post wanted to start paying new workers less than established employees and change sick-leave mandates.

Postal workers have been on a nationwide lockout, leaving the country with no mail service since June 14.

But the new back-to-work bill — already imposed on Air Canada workers — could see employees returning to their positions despite a compromise on negotiations, a move Harper said is to protect the economy.

The bill legislates wage increases less than Canada Post's last offer of 1.9% in 2011 to 2013 and 2% in 2014. The bill mandates 1.75% in 2011, 1.5% in 2012 and 2% in 2013 and 2014.

In a statement, Denis Lemelin, CUPW national president, said that over a four-year period the bill would take $875.50 out of the pockets of an average full-time postal worker. Collectively, that is $35 million from postal workers and their families nationwide, he says.

"This is not just a fight for the post office, it's not just a fight for the people that work at Air Canada — this is a fight for the middle class and you're leading the way," said Gil McGowan, Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) president.

"We are here today to tell you not only that you're not alone, but that we're incredibly proud of what you're doing."

Among the crowd was Elisabeth Ballermann, president of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta who says "an attack on one is an attack on all."

Other unions at the rally included AUPE, United Nurses of Alberta, CUPE and dozens more.

CUPW worker Stephen Hargrade says the fight is no longer about the postal workers.

"It's all just about how much we're gonna give up," he said. "The federal government is basically saying, 'Good luck, keep your mouth shut and go to work.' "

A written statement on behalf of the AFL will be sent to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, said McGowan. The statement condemns the federal government's actions calling the legislation "heavy handed" and a "one-sided attempt to undermine all working Canadians at the expense of employers."

The legislation has been tabled, while CUPW and Canada Post continue to negotiate.

Edmonton Sun, Tues Jun 21 2011
Byline: Jasmine Franklin

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