OTTAWA—Winnipeg’s postal workers will continue to walk the picket lines as their union representatives meet with senior Canada Post management officials later today.
The Canadian Union of Postal Workers is also expected to respond to the Crown Corporation’s latest contract offer in Ottawa today, one that failed to head off job action last night.
About 150 Canada Post workers hit the bricks in Winnipeg at 10:59 p.m., Central time, Thursday for the first in a series of rotating 24-hour strikes.
Winnipeg was chosen as the first city to strike because it was the first city to be impacted by Canada Post’s modernization program.
Canada Post has said it needs to address labour costs, noting the letter-mail business has fallen by more than 17 per cent since 2006 due to digital communications.
The Crown Corporation said it is committed to continuing negotiations but its last-ditch contract offer tabled Thursday afternoon didn’t satisfy the union ahead of a strike deadline. Instead, CUP-W announced plans to take to the pickets yesterday evening Lisa Peterson, vice-president of the CUP-W Winnipeg local, said rotating strikes have an impact because Canada Post won’t know where the next one will hit.
“It does often catch a bit more attention for us with the corporation just because they don’t know what city it’s coming to next, so there is no preparation for them,” Peterson said in a phone interview from the picket line.
But Winnipeg letter carrier Michelle Fidler would have preferred postal workers from coast to coast walked off the job at the same time.
“(The rotating strike) might make them go back to the table, but I think that they need to take us seriously. And I think the only way to do that is for the entire country to walk out,” Fidler said.
She says while the postal workers don’t want to disappoint Canada Post’s customers, she believes this is an “extremely important fight” — and not just for postal workers.
“I think that people have forgotten why unions are there to begin with. And that corporations are becoming more and more greedy and they’re doing that on the backs of workers like me,” Fidler said.
“Nobody ever got rich working at Canada Post in the position I’m in. I make ends meet. I don’t have a fancy car or a big house, and I work hard. And I don’t think the general public knows exactly how difficult that job is.”
As for the Canada Post’s drop in letter-mail volume, Fidler says “anyone with a brain” knows times are changing and the union accepts that.
“The corporation isn’t telling people that they have made up for that loss volume in regular mail...they’ve made up for it by soliciting more and more addressed and unaddressed ad-mail contracts.
“I have 453 residential calls that I go to everyday. It measures out at eight miles a day. And I go to almost every house every day. I rarely skip a house. There are volumes there,” Fidler said.
Meanwhile, Canada Post spokesman Jon Hamilton said while negotiations between the corporation and the union will continue, the Crown Corporation has said all week it has been committed to reaching a deal.
“It’s unfortunate that the people of Winnipeg and Manitoba are seeing a disruption to their service.. It’s completely unnecessary. We should be spending all of our time and have our combined focus be on negotiating a deal,” Hamilton said.
“Hopefully we can avoid further strike activity by the union and get a deal so that we don’t disrupt more of our customers.”
Hamilton added that the Crown Corporation has been trying to reach a deal that would balance employees needs with the financial crunch being faced at Canada Post itself.
“The Internet is a real threat to Canada Post,” he said. “We need to acknowledge that and we need to move forward with terms and conditions for employees that don’t add tremendous cost to the organization.”
Hamilton also said the union has been responding to the corporation’s offers with pricy suggestions.
“We need to make some changes to the organization but we’re not just going to say yes to a number of big-ticket demands that would make us have to increase rates to consumers or go to the taxpayer and ask for assistance.”
The union’s national president, Denis Lemelin, was not available for comment Thursday night when contacted by The Canadian Press as the workers hit the picket lines.
But he is expected to address the media at a news conference in Ottawa later today.
In its latest offer, Canada Post said it would be willing to put a controversial short-term disability program on hold, to be reviewed by a joint union-management committee.
Proposed changes to sick leave have been among the key sticking points for the union.
Winnipeg letter carrier Arlyn Doran, who was on the picket line overnight, said Canada Post’s “utter disregard” for worker health and safety was a key issue for him.
“This is my first strike ever, it’s very unnerving,” said the 34-year-old. “But we realize the people before us had to do this to get what we have, and it’s a duty for us to stand up for workers in the post office and workers everywhere to show corporations can’t push workers down.”
The last time the union went on strike was the fall of 1997. The workers were off the job for two weeks before being forced back to work by federal legislation.