Union expects Liberals to stay out of dispute

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OTTAWA – The union representing more than 50,000 postal workers says it expects the federal Liberals to refrain from legislating their way through a potential labour dispute at Canada Post — in contrast to what the previous Conservative government did five years ago.

The union won a key court victory Thursday when an Ontario court found the Conservatives’ back-to-work legislation that ended a dispute at Canada Post in 2011 was unconstitutional because it took away the union’s right to strike.

The government said Friday it is reviewing the decision and didn’t indicate whether it would appeal.

Mike Palecek, president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, said the ruling should bolster the workers’ bargaining position. He said the union’s position is also helped if the Liberals follow through on public pronouncements that the federal government won’t get involved in any labour dispute.

“It’s a strong message to Canada Post that they can’t expect to lock us out and legislate us back to work,” Palecek said.

Since the late 1980s, federal governments have legislated postal workers back to work four times, including the 2011 Conservative move.

About 6,000 rural postal workers have been without a contract since the end of December; the 48,000 or so urban workers have been without a contract since the end of January.

The two sides are in the midst of intensive contract negotiations. Canada Post filed for conciliation in early April, but negotiators have made little movement towards a new collective agreement.

The move to conciliation means that there won’t be a work stoppage at Canada Post until at least June if the union and management can’t come to a deal.

The union has proposed adding banking services to Canada Post to bring in more revenue and is asking for salary and benefit changes to address what Palecek said is a long-standing pay equity issue at the corporation. Rural mail workers, 70 per cent of whom are women, are paid less for the same work than the majority-male urban workers.

The union says Canada Post is offering changes to benefits that could reduce pensions and allow the company to loosen seniority rules about how far a displaced worker can be moved to another job in the corporation.

Palecek said the union feels Canada Post is trying to provoke a labour dispute just as the corporation prepares for public consultations on its future.

A Canada Post spokesman didn’t comment on the details of what’s on the table. Jon Hamilton said the corporation’s goal is to sign a new contract.

“We’re looking for a deal that is fair to our employees while reflecting the changing nature of our business and the needs of our customers. That’s the balance we’re trying to strike,” he said.

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