This morning postal workers and allies entered and occupied the offices of Liberal MPs in Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, Kelowna and other locations across Canada.
The Liberal government has introduced back-to-work legislation that would end a legal rotating strike by postal workers. The postal workers say they want the MPs to listen to their constituents, and they won’t leave until they speak to them.
In 2011 the Harper government introduced similar back-to-work legislation to end a strike by postal workers. In 2016, an Ontario court ruled that the government’s use of back-to-work legislation to block postal workers from striking violated the constitutional rights of union members, specifically their right to freedom of association. As a result, an Ontario Superior Court judge struck down the government’s legislation retroactively.
At the time, the Harper government had argued that back-to-work legislation was necessary to protect the economy, and Canada Post argued that the strike was costing them hundreds of millions of dollars. However, a 2012 research paper released by the union found that “the impact of the postal disruption on the economy was negligible, as measured by bankruptcy and employment data,” and the strike “cost Canada Post about $58 million,” not the hundreds of millions claimed by Canada Post’s president at the time, Deepak Chopra.
Now the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau appears ready to follow Harper’s lead in dealing with a labour dispute at the Crown corporation, even duplicating a legislative solution that was struck down as unconstitutional by the courts.
Back-to-work legislation “undermines the entire purpose of collective bargaining,” explains Barry Eidlin, a labour expert and assistant professor of sociology at McGill University.
“It removes the employer’s incentive to bargain. If they know they can run to the government and have them force workers back to work, it derails the whole process. There’s no incentive for the employer to reach an agreement.”
Union wants pay equity, safer workplaces
Mike Palecek, the national president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, says the issues they’re fighting for include pay equity for women, an end to forced overtime and unpaid overtime (Rural and suburban mail carriers are currently not paid for all the hours they work, he says) and action on health and safety issues and overburdening resulting from structural changes to the delivery system imposed under the Harper government.
“It’s fair to say that we have an injury crisis at Canada Post. Postal workers are now the most injured group of workers in the federal sector. The injury rate is five times the average, and double the next closest group [of employees]. It is more dangerous now in Canada to be a postal worker than it is to be a longshoreman or a miner.”
Palecek told Ricochet that Canada Post has been ordered by an arbitrator to provide pay equity to female employees, but there’s been no action taken. “They’re refusing to negotiate into the collective agreement what they’ve been ordered to do.”
As for what comes next, Palecek says “all options are on the table.”
“Generally what happens is that governments introduce unconstitutional legislation and it’s struck down years later, by which time the damage is already done. Which means that if we want to win, we have to fight this through avenues outside the legal system.”
Occupations target Liberals across Canada
In response to the announcement earlier this week that the government intended to table back-to-work legislation, postal workers occupied the offices of six Liberal MPs at around 10 a.m. ET this morning. Occupations included the constituency offices of Finance Minister Bill Morneau (Toronto Centre), Environment Minister Catherine McKenna (Ottawa Centre), Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains (Mississauga—Malton), Fisheries and Oceans Minister Jonathan Wilkinson (North Vancouver) as well as backbenchers Julie Dzerowicz (Davenport) and Stephen Fuhr (Kelowna—Lake Country).
Other occupations reported as this article was written include the office of Labour Minister Patty Hajdu (Thunder Bay—Superior North) and Kate Young (London West), where postal workers arrived in the afternoon.
According to the union, their reception has been mixed. In Davenport, Dzerowicz spoke to occupiers by phone right away, although she declined to change her position on the proposed back-to-work legislation. Meanwhile across town in Toronto Centre police were called by Bill Morneau’s office.
Liberal MP breaks with party
In Kelowna, postal workers claimed a small victory. MP Stephen Fuhr spoke to the occupiers and committed to voting against his own government’s back-to-work legislation in the House of Commons this evening.
In a recording obtained by Ricochet Media, Fuhr distanced himself from the government and told his constituents that he would vote against back-to-work legislation on second reading and at report stage, saying “I’m going to support you” to the postal workers. “I’ll talk to some of my colleagues too, because there’s more than just me that is thinking about this.”
Nevertheless, with the backing of most Liberal and Conservative members of Parliament, the legislation is expected to pass easily.