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Postal workers protest legislation

Postal workers march from 24 Avenue Canada Post plant to South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale MP Russ Hiebert's office.
Locked-out Canadian Union of Postal Workers members hold placards and wave at passersby at Canada Post’s 24 Avenue plant June 21.

The Conservative government has introduced legislation to force an end to the current Canada Post labour dispute.

Labour Minister Lisa Raitt introduced the bill Monday afternoon, noting both sides had had “ample” time to reach a settlement.

Tuesday morning, around a dozen locked-out postal workers marched from the 24 Avenue Canada Post plant to South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale MP Russ Hiebert’s office to lodge a protest and ask which way the MP was going to vote on the legislation.

“They’re ordering us back with the contract – it’s just an illusion of negotiation,” said union member Dave Jelley.

“No job is safe if we can be legislated back to work,” added union member Teresa Fontaine.

Aside from social assistance and pension cheques, all mail delivery has been suspended by the dispute.

Debate on the legislation – which would force both sides into binding arbitration if a settlement can’t be hammered out – was anticipated to start after Peace Arch News’ deadline Tuesday, which could mean a vote by Thursday, the last scheduled day of the current session.

Although this development had led to speculation that mail delivery could resume as soon as Friday, Canada Post spokesperson John Caines said the timing would be hard to predict without specifics of the legislation.

Hiebert described the bill as “the way to go… a healthy way to resolve a labour dispute.”

“It’s fair and it results in a final contract,” he said in a phone interview from Ottawa Tuesday.

Hiebert said it is important to get mail services back on track.

“There are economic consequences if we don’t get the post moving, and a lot of Canadians are being inconvenienced.”

Hiebert said he is not taking a public position on the dispute, in which the Canadian Union of Postal Workers has argued Canada Post is demanding “unacceptable” rollbacks.

Due to the Conservatives’ majority in the House of Commons, the vote on the back-to-work bill would be expected to pass easily, although it was unclear whether NDP MPs would seek to delay the vote through debate.

Government House leader Peter Van Loan has said the House will remain in session until the bill is passed.

Both the NDP and the Liberals have condemned the idea of legislation to end the dispute, arguing government would be meddling in the collective bargaining process while failing to address valid pension and benefit issues raised by CUPW.

The union started rotating strikes across the country June 3. Canada Post countered with an employee lockout June 15.

“We were losing up to $100 million and our customer base was eroding,” Caines said. “Our volumes were down about 50 per cent, but we were still paying full salaries. There comes a time when you have to cut your losses.”

Susan Keeping, an NDP candidate in Hiebert’s riding last month,  said she has concerns over government “manipulation” of information about the strike, and urged the public to inform themselves even though there may be a legislated end to the dispute.

She said the rotating strikes had been designed to send a message to Canada Post without overly inconveniencing the public.

“This is using legislation that was not intended for that purpose to shut down negotiations,” she said.

About the Author: Alex Browne

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