by Jan Chaboyer
Members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) initiated job action on June 2 in response to Canada Post’s refusal to continue the collective bargaining process for the purpose of achieving a new collective agreement. The main unresolved issues were: health and safety, staffing, sick leave and short-term disability, wages, pensions and benefits, job creation and service expansion.
Initially, CUPW members conducted rotating strikes beginning in Winnipeg, as a means of informing the public of the reasons for the impasse in collective bargaining while at the same time minimizing disruption of service.
When Federal Labour Minister, Lisa Raitt, raised concerns about the economic impact of the rotating strikes, CUPW offered to suspend strike action on June 10th and resume collective bargaining provided Canada Post would agree to reinstate the terms of the collective agreement until a new agreement was reached. Canada Post rejected this offer and announced on June 13 that CUPW members would be locked out on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On June 15 Canada Post announced a total lockout informing the public that “all mail processing plants and letter carrier depots are closed and all facilities have been secured. No new mail will be accepted.” Although it was the employer, not the union, that disrupted service to the public, the Conservative government is threatening back-to-work legislation and settlement of the dispute by arbitration – actions that will effectively punish the workers for actions taken by their employer.
Canada Post’s refusal to negotiate at the bargaining table and the Harper government’s derailing of the collective bargaining process will hurt all Canadians.
Canada Post is undermining the working conditions of postal workers and degrading postal services for Canadian citizens. Most Canadians know the difficulties and hazards faced by both outside and inside postal workers. Letter carriers deliver our mail, rain or shine. They contend with 40 below weather, heavy snow and slippery sidewalks. It is not uncommon for letter carriers to encounter vicious dogs and other dangers. In recent years, postal workers have been saddled with bigger bundles and more weight and higher production quotas. This has added to the hazards of work and increased injuries.
Many Canadians are dependent on the door-to-door delivery service that Canada Post workers provide. This is especially the case in rural areas and for seniors and individuals with mobility issues living in urban areas.
Canada Post’s anti-union agenda, and the Harper government’s tacit support for it, concern all Canadians who believe that workers should be treated fairly and postal services improved, not degraded. Since CUPW members’ last national job action in 1997, Canada Post has made $1.7 billion in profits. Clearly, there is room to negotiate a collective agreement that works for both Canada Post and its workers.
CUPW proposed measures to improve postal services, including the expansion of door-to-door delivery, provision of banking and financial services (which would be particularly beneficial in remote locations) and an increase in job opportunities for young people coming into the labour market. Canada Post rejected these innovative proposals and instead proposed to reduce worker salaries and benefits as well as service to the public. They also want to scale back wages by paying new workers 30 per cent less than existing workers; reduce employee and retiree benefits, pensions and sick leave provisions; and weaken job security.
Canada Post’s strategy and the Harper government’s support for it suggest an alarming parallel to the recent attacks on public sector workers in Wisconsin and other states. The U.S. agenda of drastic cuts to the public service, cutting public sector wages and contracting out public sector jobs while undermining public sector unions will not benefit ordinary people, in the U.S. or in Canada. Most of us rely on the quality services provided by these workers, which we get at far lower cost than comparable services bought from private firms.
Public sector unions also contribute in important ways to the quality of life we value. Fair wages, job security and other advantages bargained by public sector workers help maintain the community standards that benefit all workers by slowing the “race to the bottom” that leads to low wages in precarious jobs with few benefits. Public sector unions also offer a bulwark against declining union density. Overall, less than 32 percent of Canadian workers are unionized, but 71 percent of public sector workers are union members. Higher unionization is good for all Canadians, even those not lucky enough to be union members. Recent studies show conclusively that countries with higher unionization enjoy more social equality, better health, fewer social problems, more trust, and a higher quality of life. Public sector unions protect the good life that we in Canada enjoy.
Canadians want and deserve good jobs with decent wages and working conditions. Regressive changes to collective agreements undermine those objectives. A two-tier wage structure that would pay new employees 30 per cent less to do the same job as their co-workers, with no chance at comparable wage for seven years, is unfair. Reducing the number of good paying jobs and scaling back benefits makes workers more vulnerable and will lower community standards and weaken the economy.
Like the thousands of Manitobans who gathered in solidarity with postal workers in Winnipeg on June 16th the members of the Brandon and District Labour Council fully support CUPW members in their efforts to get a better agreement and better postal services for all Canadians. We believe that these are goals that all Canadians can support.
Eliminating good jobs and reducing the quality of services provided by crown corporations is not in Canada’s best interest. And undermining the collective bargaining process by legislating workers to return to work shows disregard for worker rights.
The Conservative government must take back-to-work legislation off the table and order Canada Post management to negotiate a collective agreement that addresses the concerns of postal workers and improves the quality of services to citizens.
Jan Chaboyer is President of the Brandon & District Labour Council.
On April 19, 2011, Winnipeg’s Right to Housing coalition held a March for Housing to coincide with the Red Tent Day of Action across Canada. The march drew attention to the urgent need for affordable housing in Winnipeg and across the country, and raised questions about the silence around housing issues in the current election campaign. CCPA-MB director Shauna MacKinnon spoke at the rally. And CCPA-MB also published a Fast Facts “Electing to house Canadians – or not?” which examines the need for affordable housing in Canada, and considers the election platforms of the federal parties, arguing that housing is an essential issue for Canadians and so should be discussed in the election. You can read this Fast Facts by clicking here.
by Shauna MacKinnon
Most Canadians will now have seen the striking image of Brigette DePape. The determined solitary young woman, surrounded by the highest ranking public officials in the land, stood in silence holding her crumpled ‘Stop Harper’ sign, as the Governor General read the Conservative government’s throne speech.
Reaction has been swift and strong. Brigette DePape has been criticized for her disrespect of a time-honoured tradition. Liberal Senator Sharon Carstairs questioned why the intelligent young DePape would jeopardize a promising future. Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett said Brigette should have taken her protest out “on the lawn”. Jason Kenney, Conservative MP and Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism showed his colours when he described the intelligent and highly credentialed young DePape as “a lefty kook”.
But beyond Parliament Hill, many Canadians have been deeply moved by Brigette’s courage and conviction. People of all ages are praising Brigette for taking a stand. Like-minded youth in particular have been quick to call Brigette their hero. Not surprising. Brigette’s quiet, peaceful protest comes at a time when many young Canadians are disengaged from the political process and/or deeply disillusioned with a system that allows our country to be governed by a political party elected by less than half of its voters and committed to the destruction of much that Canadians have struggled to build over many long decades.
Like Brigette, many youth across the world are wondering how they can make a difference. They are taking action, exercising their democratic rights and expressing their views in creative ways because they do not have faith in their governments to implement policies that will create the kind of just and equitable world they believe to be possible. Let’s face it, they don’t need to look too far to see the impact of political decisions. Growing social and economic inequality is pervasive, its consequences will be exceptionally damaging, and environmental destruction is threatening the world that they will inherit.
Brigette DePape is a young woman who passionately believes we can create a world that is more just and equitable. She is smart, hard-working, energetic and community minded. She is respectful yet not afraid to think critically and express her views.
She’s done all the right things in her young life and the zest in which she lives it would make any parent proud. Her award of a Loran Scholarship, an honour awarded to students who have shown excellence in academia and community service, is evidence of her competence. In a world where success is measured in terms of personal wealth and individual pursuits, Brigette and other youth like her should be commended for looking beyond their individual careers as they fight for a better world.
Brigette was fortunate to have found herself in an unusual position – privileged yet powerless. On the one hand, she was honoured to have been selected as a Senate page, a position difficult to attain and one coveted by students dreaming of political careers. But for someone with Brigette’s integrity and passion for justice, the excitement of being a page soon wore thin. At some point she realized that it presented a creative way for her to turn a completely powerless position into an opportunity to express her political views with the hope of raising awareness and mobilizing toward change.
In an age when newspapers have the power to influence voters by endorsing politicians who put business interests before public interest; in a society where a political party is given a majority government in spite of demonstrating its disregard and disrespect for the parliamentary process; and in a society where the acquisition of a hockey team gets more media attention in one day than many issues of significant public relevance get in a decade, Brigette selflessly and brilliantly played the card that she had available to her, in spite of the unknown consequences to her as an individual.
In this single act of peaceful defiance, Brigette has become a symbol of hope for many who are concerned with the direction the Harper government may try to take us in. She has sent a signal to her generation, and to all of us, that we have an important role to play in changing that course. And she has re-energized the progressive but often cynical members of her parents’ generation to continue to press for change. Brigette stepped up when we needed a shot of hope and optimism.
Perhaps it is because I know Brigette and have a high regard and respect for her sincere desire for social, economic and environmental justice that I have been so deeply moved by her courageous act. Perhaps this is why the image of her standing in the Senate is the most powerful image of political protest in Canada in my recent memory.
Notwithstanding, I believe that those who think that Brigette’s action will be a blip in history, written off as some silly act of youthful defiance, are wrong. We have seen throughout history the power that single acts of non-violent civil disobedience can produce.
Brigette DePape has gone viral. Her image is being plastered on walls, websites and facebook pages across the country. Her moment in the mainstream media may be over, but the image of Brigette and her “Stop Harper” sign will continue to inspire her generation and others who share her desire for a more just and democratic society.
Shauna MacKinnon is the director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – Manitoba
Brigette DePape was a CCPA-Manitoba intern in the summer of 2010. During her internship, Brigette wrote two provocative commentaries on inequality and activism. Click the links below to read: