The Dust Barely Settles after Back-to-Work Legislation becomes Law

Julian Wolfe
June 30th, 2011

Locked out Canada Post employees picket outside the main postal facility in Halifax on June 27, 2011.

During the filibuster last week as the Conservatives tried to forcefully end the standoff between Canada Post and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, an apparent agreement between them failed and insiders are pointing at the Prime Minister’s Office. All the while, the union said that it will be legally challenging the back to work legislation.

Possible PMO Involvement

The NDP has accused Harper of taking a hard line in the dispute to send a signal to other public sector unions as he plans a long road of cuts.

“Obviously the (Prime Minister’s Office) got involved in there. I believe that Stephen Harper wanted to send a message across the country,” said NDP MP Yvon Godin.

Mail stopped flowing as a dispute arose between CUPW and Canada Post. As a result, Harper proposed back to work legislation last week. However, it was seen as unfair by the NDP and CUPW because it imposed a wage settlement that is less than what had been offered by Canada Post and used a ‘winner-takes-all’ approach to select the final offer where each side would present a final offer and an arbitrator would choose one.

As a result, the NDP launched a filibuster to delay the legislation in hopes that a settlement could have been negotiated.

It should be no surprise, however, that the Conservatives chose this plan of action. In 1997, Harper stated that ending the monopoly in the postal service “will ensure that Canadians are never held hostage by another postal strike.” It is likely (almost certain) that the post service wasn’t the only monopoly that Harper has looked at and with cuts planned to dominate upcoming budgets, it is likely more workers and unions could be deeply effected and take to the streets so Harper decided that he would use the postal service as an example of what he would do to future disputes.

The fact that Harper chose to settle a wage increase below what management offered was a clear sign that it was intended as a punishment.

During the filibuster, Godin and Joe Comartin, a fellow New Democrat MP acted as the links between Labor Minister Lisa Raitt, CUPW and the Canadian Labor Congress.

Before the filibuster happened on Thursday night, the NDP thought a deal had been reached to amend the legislation to take the final offer selection out and replace it with eight weeks of mediation overseen by an arbitrator.

An hour after the negotiations, Raitt’s office said ‘there is no deal.’

“I don’t know what happened. There’s lots of speculation. Some people thought maybe the Prime Minister’s Office had a hand in it,” an official who was part of the discussions said on Wednesday.

On Friday, the two sides of the dispute came close to a settlement where the two sides would find middle ground with their issues.

Comartin and Godin met with Raitt and agreed that if there was an agreement, the legislation would be withdrawn.

By Friday evening, the two sides had come to an agreement on key issues such as the wage rate and other issues would be sent to arbitration.

A source told The Star that Raitt’s office rejected that deal Friday night.

Harper denied having a “political interference” when he crossed the floor to speak to Layton where he was questioned.

The NDP then ended the filibuster and let the bill pass.

Harper’s aide Andrew MacDougall said that suggestions that the PMO was involved were ‘categorically false’ and said,

“As much as the NDP would like to sidestep the blame for the delay, they can’t,” he said Wednesday.

“The bottom line is that the NDP was blocking legislation that would have ensured the resumption of mail delivery to Canadians,” he said in an email.

“To be clear, only the Federal Mediation Service and the Minister of Labor were involved with CUPW and Canada Post,” MacDougall said.

CUPW Will Fight Back to Work Legislation

The CUPW will mount a legal challenge against Harper’s Back to Work Law.

While the union is looking at whether it will challenge it piece by piece or as a whole will be determined, but in the meantime, mail will trickle its way back into flow, even as the law is contested.

The union will also be making a complaint to the Human Rights Commission claiming that the situation brings discrimination against new employees who will not have the same pension benefits as older employees.

The union said that it hopes that a new collective bargaining agreement can be made before the arbitrator makes a decision.

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