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Canada Post: Looming deadline in contract talks resurrects threat of strike

Mail delivery across Canada is again in peril as another deadline looms for the Canadian Union of Postal Workers.
Mail delivery across Canada is again in peril as another deadline looms for the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. Canadian Press

The union representing over 50,000 Canada Post workers is facing yet another looming deadline as it attempts to negotiate two new labour contracts, and a postal strike could again be on the horizon.

At the moment, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers has a mandate from its members to go on strike if a deal with Canada Post can’t be reached. So far, neither the union nor the Crown Corporation have opted for a work stoppage, and the mail is still flowing.

But the union’s strike mandate was only good for 60 days, and it runs out next Thursday, Aug. 25.

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Union executives now have three options.

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First, the union could ask Canada Post to agree in writing to allow the strike mandate to be extended indefinitely. That would mean talks could continue, but the workers would retain the right to strike beyond Aug. 25.

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CUPW president Mike Palecek didn’t seem to be holding out hope for this option when he spoke to the Canadian Press on Tuesday.

“We’re concerned Canada Post is just trying to wait us out,” he said.

“We obviously can’t leave ourselves in a position where we’re not covered by a strike mandate, because that would give management the upper hand, and we wouldn’t be able to respond to the actions that they might take.”

The second option is probably the least palatable one for average Canadians: if Canada Post refuses to extend the mandate, the union could issue a 72-hour strike notice.

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That could force Canada Post’s hand in terms of getting a deal done, but the corporation has shown little willingness to bend in recent weeks, so it’s a big gamble.

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“The union maintaining their strike mandate certainly doesn’t help provide the certainty they’re looking for,” said Canada Post spokesperson Jon Hamilton on Tuesday.

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Hamilton acknowledged the contract talks “have not made much progress” thus far. On Wednesday, Canada Post issued a statement to its customers advising them that “based on options available to CUPW, we can expect a 72-hour strike notice to be issued by the union between now and August 25.”

In this worst-case scenario, the mail system could grind to a halt by the following weekend.

The third and final option would be for the union to go back to its members and get a fresh strike mandate, which would again be valid for 60 days. That would be expensive and time-consuming, Palecek pointed out, so the CUPW isn’t leaning in that direction.

“We’ve said from the outset that our intent here isn’t a labour dispute,” he noted. “We want a negotiated collective agreement and that’s still our goal.”

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The federal government, meanwhile, has continued taking a hands-off approach to the ongoing labour dispute. In the past, federal governments have imposed binding arbitration to settle deadlocked negotiations between Canada Post and CUPW.

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In the case of a strike or lock-out, back-to-work legislation has also been passed.

But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised repeatedly to respect the role played by unions, and Palecek said he expects the Liberal government to uphold their constitutional right to collective bargaining.

Last week, an arbitrator accepted Canada Post’s proposal for a new collective agreement with its postmasters and assistants in rural offices across the country, who are represented by a different union.

-With files from the Canadian Press