by Elizabeth Byce
A strong strike mandate is a good antidote to the breath-taking concessions now demanded by the Canada Post Corporation (CPC). That is the message of leaders of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) to their 54,000 members.
The latest postal strike occurred in 1997. Collective agreements signed in 2000, 2003 and 2007 contained roll backs to severance entitlements, utilization of sick leave benefits, and included introduction of 'team incentives' that undermine solidarity.
Now, it appears, the union is drawing the line -- which may become a mass picket line this summer -- and none too soon.
Management demands include the following: the elimination of thousands of jobs (by reduction of the internal full-time staffing ratio to 72% from 78%, reducing full-time positions at wickets, elimination of both wash-up periods, and the introduction of new mechanized equipment), slashing the pay of new hires by nearly 30 per cent, the reduction of vacation leave, a new 'cost sharing formula' for retirees that would require employees retiring after December 31, 2011 to pay 100% of the premiums of the Extended Health Care Plan instead of 25%, limiting the Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) to instances when inflation increases by 8 per cent or more, the 'adjustment' of injury-on-duty pay from 100% down to 75%, and no pay for short term illness (absences of less than seven days).
For the last 15 years CPC has made a profit -- an achievement beyond its mandate, accomplished on the backs of postal workers and by eroding service to the public. The Union's demands at the negotiating table include that the profits should be put back into Canada Post to improve service to everyone and to improve working conditions and wages of the workers that provide the services.
CUPW is negotiating to improve service at corporate retail counters, to increase the door mail delivery, and to introduce postal banks in communities that currently have post offices but no banking institutions.
Canada Post has not only tried to impose roll backs on its workers, but also on all Canadians with the introduction of 'community mail boxes', reductiuction of post offices, service disruptions due to inadequate staffing, introduction of automation which removes a letter carrier's ability to ensure accuracy of delivery, reduction of street letter boxes, and so on.
So a lot is at stake in this round of collective bargaining. CUPW can revitalize itself by mobilizing its members and supporters, and return to its proud heritage of class struggle. It can return to the exemplary role it played as a militant, democratic union in the 1960s through the 1990s. CUPW can show the whole labour movement how to stand up to concession demands, as the bosses everywhere try to make workers pay for the global capitalist crisis. The fight back starts with a strong strike mandate.
(Elizabeth Byce is a retired postal worker, a former 30 year activist in the Toronto Local of CUPW.)