Ottawa, ON — The federal government has given notice that they’re prepared to legislate Canada Post employees back to work as the postal service and union spar over the scale of the backlog the rotating strikes have created.
Labour Minister Patty Hajdu said that 48 hours notice is required before introducing back-to-work legislation, but insisted that having done so doesn’t mean the government will make the move to end rotating strikes by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers.
“We have complete flexibility about when we’ll introduce that legislation,” Hajdu told reporters before the Liberal caucus meeting Wednesday morning.
The potential of forcing postal employees back to work comes in the fifth week of rotating strikes by thousands of unionized workers as the union and postal service remain divided in contract negotiations.
Canada Post said Tuesday that Canadians can expect delays of parcel and mail delivery into 2019 as a result of the strikes, especially in southwestern Ontario because of a backlog of hundreds of transport trailers sitting idle at its main Toronto sorting facility.
The Canadian Union of Postal Workers has, however, challenged the claims of major backlogs, saying they have been highly exaggerated. The union said Wednesday that it counted about 70 trailers at the main Toronto facility, which could be cleared in a matter of days, along with a smattering of trailers elsewhere in Ontario and on the East Coast.
“It would appear that they’re up to their same old game, which is to try to provoke back-to-work legislation,” said Mike Palecek, CUPW national president in an interview.
“This is what Canada Post does again and again and again. They create a crisis, in this case a fictional one, and then wait for the government to bail them out. So we’re incredibly concerned that the government may be moving forward with legislation based on information that isn’t true.”
Canada Post said it has made a dent in backlog that hit a record last week, but it is still well behind as it goes into the busiest three weeks of the year.
“Normally at this time of year we would have about 100 trailers to work through across our facilities as we brace for the Black Friday rush,” said spokesman Jon Hamilton in an email.
“With our operations impacted by the ongoing strikes, we are five times that, with additional trailers of mail and parcels being held by customers and by international posts waiting for us to clear space for them to send.”
He said Canada Post has had to rent space off site to store trailers while they wait for processing, which the union may not be aware of.
Disputes on the scale of the backlog come as the two sides sat down with special mediator Morton Mitchnick Wednesday, who was reappointed by the federal Liberals.
Palecek said he was hopeful that Mitchnick could help with negotiations, but was concerned the federal Liberals had moved forward on back-to-work legislation at the same time.
“Our negotiators will do their best to reach a negotiated settlement, but the government’s announcement pulls the rug out from under us,” he said.
Hajdu said she’ll let Mitchnick take the time he needs to push forward the protracted negotiations.
“We’ve given notice to the House, we are extremely serious, (but) I really don’t want to have to use back-to-work legislation,” said Hajdu. “But having said that, this is a really busy time of year, people are relying on Canada Post to deliver packages, small and medium-size businesses are relying on Canada Post to have a profitable season and our economy needs Canada Post to be able to function in a smooth way.”
Hajdu said the parties have already had a very long time to work out a deal but she expects them to work hard over the next couple of days to reach an agreement.
The Canadian Union of Postal Workers on Monday turned down an offer for a holiday cooling-off period and a possible $1,000 bonus for its 50,000 members, saying it would only mean postal employees continuing to work under the same conditions the union is trying to have changed.
When asked if she worries about potential criticism from New Democrats for ending the strikes with a law, Hajdu said she has to do what’s right for the country.