Why Should Canada Post Employees Strike?

Canada Post is in the news again.  The crown corporation is facing the potential of another labour disruption by its postal workers. Over the past 50 years, Canada Post has experienced approximately 20 work stoppages (strike or lockout) with the last action ending in arbitrated back-to-work legislation in 2011.  Due to this troubled labour history and the impact of the disruption of services to Canadians, the corporation has been declared an essential service. This means that the federal government can, once again, enact legislation that forces postal workers back to their jobs if there is a strike.

Global News provides us with a summary of the issues facing Canada Post and its workers at the bargaining table.

Forcing unionized employees back to work when they are exercising their reasonable and legitimate rights, is not something that governments implement lightly. Declaring Canada Post an essential service came as a result of the significant and direct financial impact on Canadians when the mail was not being delivered. In the not too distant past, thousands of Canadians were reliant on supplemental or basic incomes in the form of paper cheques which were issued by the federal government. When the mail was not being delivered, low-income and senior Canadians did not receive these cheques or the funds they needed in order to survive. While current technology has allowed for direct deposits and online banking, not all Canadians have access to these resources. In the event of a strike by postal workers, some Canadians may continue to be at risk, which may result in a repeat of back-to-work legislation in order to protect vulnerable Canadians.

Having said all of this, the impact of technology has also changed how Canadians use the services of Canada Post. Most Canadians do use electronic options such as e-mail and social media to order to communicate and share information.  The days of buying stamps in order to post a letter writing are dwindling quickly. Further, there are numerous delivery services available to Canadian consumers as alternatives to Canada Post, such as Fedex, Purolator, or UPS.

Why then would postal workers choose to go on strike in the face of legislative restrictions and an ever-decreasing amount of consumer demand?  As noted in the article, a strike vote does not necessarily mean that there will be a strike. A strike vote does send a clear message to the employer that the workers are serious about their demands and that they are willing to take the risks that come from the potential of strike action. Hopefully, both parties will see the benefit of continuing their discussions at the bargaining table rather than fighting it out through the picket line.

Time will tell how this particular set of negotiations works its way through to a successful conclusion.

In the meantime, it may be a good idea to check the mail, just in case.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would a strike by Canada Post impact you as a customer?
  2. If you were negotiating for the union, what leverage do you have at the bargaining table and how would you use it?
  3. If you were negotiating for the employer, how far would you go to avoid strike action? What items would you offer to the Union in order to settle this contract?

In Labour Relations History Truly Repeats Itself

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What is going in the world of labour relations now, and what can we learn from labour history?

Remember learning the significance of the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike?

Click here if you need an LR history refresher.

The 1919 Winnipeg General Strike saw 30,000 people, including telephone operators, postal workers, police, fire fighters, cooks, and contractors take to the streets. But how relevant is this historical event to labour relations today?

In the hundred years that have passed since 1919, business has changed, employers and employment laws have changed, and employment standards have improved markedly for workers in most developed countries. If standards and laws have improved so much, why are general strikes and civil protest still happening?

In 2015, 400,000 public sector employees went on strike in Quebec. In France, a quarter of a million employees went on strike in October 2017, and 10,000 civil servants and railway staff joined forces and went on strike in April 2018.

Let’s look at the most recent strike occurring in France.

Click here to read a short article on this latest strike.

This has moved beyond a typical single employer/employee labour dispute, and is turning into a social movement. It now includes railway workers, teachers, and air traffic controllers. It has become a general strike.

The question is, why in seemingly well-developed societies, like Canada or France, have we not found a better way to resolve labour disputes than taking to the streets in protest? Is it because workers or employers are unreasonable people with unreasonable demands? If so, who determines which side is unreasonable?

Is there a better way? According to Roger Fisher and William Ury from Harvard University, there is.

Click here to read a summary of their book, Getting to Yes.

Getting to Yes talks about BATNA, an acronym coined by Fisher and Ury, which stands for the Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA). Fisher and Ury emphasize that positional bargaining is not the most effective way to reach an agreement, and that it can actually do more harm than good. With positional bargaining one side must win and the other must lose. This is no way for employers and unions to treat each other in the 21st century.

Getting to Yes has been around for 40 years, yet employers and unions are still using positional bargaining. Why? Perhaps many unions and employers do not feel it meets their needs.

Does history repeat itself? It certainly seems to with Labour Relations. Where are we 100 years after the Winnipeg general strike? It looks like we’re in the very same place. Perhaps it is time to move past the adversarial model of Labour Relations. The question is, do employers and unions have the will to do that?


Discussion Questions:

  1. Read this summary of the concepts in Getting to Yes.
  2. Discuss why unions and management might be against using Getting to Yes principles.
  3. Can you describe specific situations where it would be more beneficial to use Getting to Yes concepts, such as interest-based bargaining, rather than traditional positional bargaining?


Renegotiate, Renew, Repeat

Carousel in running, shot by Tilt-Shift lens
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We live in a world that is full of cyclical patterns and connections. The world spins on its rotation around the sun. The seasons change and then they change again. The monthly calendar renews itself each year. Each day begins, ends, and then begins again with an opportunity to make the new day better than the day before.

It is within this construct of cyclical patterns that we observe the timing of bargaining the renewal of collective agreements. Unless the parties to a collective agreement are setting up an initial contract, the process of bargaining is based on a continuing cycle that re-negotiates the terms of that original agreement. Once the terms are agreed for the renewal, both parties know that they have a limited time to live with what was agreed to and that there is an opportunity to try to change items that are unsatisfactory, for either party, in the next round.

Within this type of a cyclical process, we must expect to see the patterns of negotiations repeating themselves and not be surprised by the steps that either party may take during the collective agreement renewal process.

A good example of this can be found in the negotiating patterns of the LCBO (the employer) and OPSEU (the union) in Ontario. The expiry date for the current collective agreement between these two parties is imminent. While they are in the process of negotiations, the union has set a strike deadline for the end of April 2017. LCBO workers are threatening to walk off the job if the terms of renewal are not agreed.

The very same process occurred in 2013, which was the last time these two parties met at the bargaining table.

Click here to read about the 2017 bargaining process between LCBO and OPSEU.

Click here to read about the 2013 bargaining process between LCBO and OPSEU.

It is interesting to read and compare the fact situations (and the perceptions) of each party between the last round of bargaining and this one. While some of the issues raised in the current round of bargaining may be a bit different, the end goal for both the union and the employer is the same. Both parties need to reach an agreement that they can live with until the bargaining cycle begins again.

Discussion Questions:

  1. After reading both articles, what similarities are in place on the employer (LCBO) side?
  2. What are the messages from the union about the employer in both articles? Are there any differences between 2013 and 2017?
  3. What issues are matters of concern in this latest round of bargaining?
  4. What leverage does each party have in order to reach a renewal to the collective agreement?