EDITORIAL: Back-to-work legislation for postal workers should be returned to sender

by | Nov 28, 2018 | Editorial

ETC Staff

Whether it’s the left or right end of the spectrum, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) can’t seem to get political leaders to stand up for workers’ rights.

Following weeks of rotating strikes across Canada, CUPW was hit with back-to-work legislation yet again.

BILL C-89, the “Postal Services Resumption and Continuation Act,” was debated in the House of Commons last weekend. With the exception of members of the New Democratic Party, who staged a walkout in solidarity with CUPW, MPs had largely turned their backs on workers’ rights.

On Monday night, the Senate voted to officially pass the legislation with a 53-25 margin.

And this is the second time in less than 10 years CUPW members have been forced back to work.

Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper helped to undermine the union in 2011 when he tabled the back-to-work legislation that was passed 158 to 113.

This was ruled unconstitutional five years later when CUPW challenged the decision in court.

Yet only a few years later, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has justified using it again — in the name of saving Christmas.

“The Christmas & holiday season is here — and Canadian businesses and families depend on Canada Post. We urge both sides in this labour dispute to resolve their differences quickly and reach a deal,” Trudeau tweeted.

Canada Post representatives are also saying there could be package delivery backlogs extending into 2019, putting Christmas gifts at risk of arriving late.

This strike is being framed as the union trying to cancel Christmas while a bereaved Santa Claus wrings his hands because his elves won’t make any toys for the children.

But these not-so-jolly elves are striking to resolve many of the same issues they tried to fix during the 2011 strike. CUPW has been bargaining with crown corporation Canada Post for nearly a year to improve working conditions, including workplace safety.

The weight of soaring e-commerce has been pushed onto the backs of carriers who are more likely to be injured on the job than ever before as packages grow in number and weight.

Workplace injuries have increased 43 per cent over the past two years, according to CUPW.

Pay equity is a hotly contested issue once again as rural carriers are being paid by their route size and not by the hour, like their urban counterparts. This effectively leads to rural workers being paid less for doing the same job.

And both urban and rural CUPW members are fighting for a reduction in the amount of overtime they work.

CUPW called on its members to institute an overtime ban on Nov. 1 and to work no longer than 40 hours a week.

“Postal workers will refuse overtime, including letter carriers — who have experienced so much forced overtime that some of them are not used to seeing their families before dark,” according to a CUPW press release.

Yet despite these long, back-breaking hours, postal workers still put in an estimated 260,000 volunteer hours last year for Canada Post’s letters to Santa program.

“Postal Elves” responded to 1.6 million children’s letters that were sent to Santa in 2017, according to Canada Post.

It’s easy to turn on the union for striking at such a critical holiday for mail delivery, but keep in mind these issues could have been solved in 2011.

Instead they were forced back to work, which significantly reduced any clout they might have been able to bring to the bargaining table.

CUPW are not the straw that broke the reindeer’s back, they are the backbone of the holiday season and fair, safe working conditions with reasonable hours are a pretty reasonable wish list.

Using back-to-work legislation again to ignore these issues means Canadians can expect much of the same in holidays to come.