06/05/2011 05:40 EDT | Updated 08/05/2011 05:12 EDT

Montreal Next For Postal Worker Walkout


CBC -- Montreal is the next city for a postal worker walkout as part of rotating work stoppages across the country.

CUPW announced Montreal employees will start a 24-hour strike at 11:30 p.m. local time on Sunday as workers in Hamilton, who walked off the job at 11:45 p.m. local time Friday, will return to work at 11:45 p.m. on Sunday.

Postal workers in Winnipeg were the first to walk off the job Thursday at midnight for a 24-hour strike after rejecting last-minute contract proposals by Canada Post.

"Negotiations are ongoing. Canada Post has not yet responded to the proposals we gave to them Friday," Denis Lemelin, national president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) said to CBC News on Saturday. "Canada Post may respond today or tomorrow, we don't know. But we'll make decisions [concerning rotating strikes] based on that."

The union said some processing centres and corporate offices will be shut down during the Hamilton walk-out.

Mark Platt, head of CUPW in Hamilton, said the corporation is not suffering losses and is trying to make more profits off the backs of workers.

"Even in the year 2009, when the economy was down, they made a profit," Platt told CBC News. "We haven't had a new agreement in 16 years and they've had a profit in the last nine."

Canada Post said it remains committed to negotiating a deal that is "fair and reasonable without causing the corporation to become a drain on the taxpayers."

"We also believe that the union's strike activity is completely unnecessary," said corporation spokesperson Anick Losier in an email to CBC News on Saturday.

"We are at the table and ready to negotiate."

Losier said mail in Hamilton is expected to be disrupted on Monday because mail that arrived in Hamilton on Thursday and Friday for delivery will be delayed by one day.

In Winnipeg, it was a different story, with Canada Post spokesperson Jon Hamilton saying Friday it was "business as usual" as the corporation kept its Winnipeg operations going despite the strike.

"I just don't want people to think we'll shut things down during the union's rotating strikes," Hamilton said in an email.

On Friday, the president of CUPW clarified the reasons for the strike.

"We want to continue to put pressure on Canada Post and really force the corporation to resolve the concrete problems for workers on the work floor," Denis Lemelin said.

"We cannot agree to work in conditions that are not safe."

Winnipeg was chosen for the first strike activity because it was the first city to be affected by Canada Post's modernization program, which Lemelin said causes safety concerns and has resulted in a 15 per cent increase in injuries among workers, as well as a sharp decline in customer service.

New methods include requiring letter carriers, who walk on average 15 kilometres a day, sometimes in bad weather, to carry multiple bundles on their routes instead of just one. Inside workers stand for eight-hour shifts at new machines that are twice as fast at processing the mail.

In an interview with CBC News, Hamilton defended the new methods and said the Crown corporation has met almost weekly with the union over these changes since 2008.

"The equipment we're bringing in and have brought in and using successfully is used safely by postal systems around the world and has been for years," he said.

"The methods of carrying mail in two bundles rather than just one is used by 200,000 letter carriers in the U.S. every single day and done safely. It wouldn't have been continued for 20 years if that wasn't safe."

In a news release Friday, Labour Minister Lisa Raitt said she was concerned about the effect a strike would have on Canadians and businesses across the country.

"Our government is disappointed that the parties have so far been unable to reach an agreement and that the union has felt it necessary to begin strikes. …The best solution is the one that the parties reach themselves."

Proposed changes to sick leave have been among the key sticking points for the union.

On Thursday, Canada Post made what it said were a number of compromises on issues, including sick days and the wage for new hires. But CUPW said the agency didn't offer anything on "the major outstanding issues" and initiated the strike.

In the event of a nationwide strike, Canada Post will cease nearly all mail delivery, with the exception of monthly social assistance payments such as old age security and veteran's cheques, as well as welfare and child benefit cheques. People can call 1-800-OCANADA for more information.

Those cheques will all be delivered in one day by letter carriers in uniform who had agreed in advance to be on the job through a work stoppage, Hamilton said. Some retail postal outlets will remain open, he added. The federal government has warned that a postal strike could harm the Canadian economy.

Canada Post workers last went on strike in 1997 and were out for two weeks before being legislated back to work. While a postal strike in 2011 won't have the same impact as those in the 1980s or 1990s, "mail delivery is still a life-line to small business, rural communities, seniors and charities who rely on mail campaigns to raise money," Hamilton said.

Rotating postal strikes won't have as much impact on businesses as a national strike. But a steady stream of such strikes would cause problems, Dan Kelly, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business senior vice-president, told The Canadian Press.

"It inevitably is going to throw some wrenches into the system and cause delays at the very least and a lot of stress and anxiety with small businesses."

Canada Post had tabled an offer that included a defined benefit pension plan for both new and existing employees, up to seven weeks vacation and job security. But after more than seven months of contract talks, the union rejected Canada Post's final offer and tabled its own counter-offer on Monday.

Canada Post called the union's offer "out of touch" with the challenges currently facing the Crown corporation, which includes a core letter mail business that has fallen by more than 17 per cent per address since 2006, and a pension deficit of $3.2 billion.

CUPW's Platt points out the drop in letter mail has been made up by ad mail and small parcels and packets.

"They're continuing to do well and make money. So there are sources of revenue and not just letter mail."

The union, which represents close to 50,000 letter carriers and other workers, is asking for a four-year contract with wage increases of 3.3 per cent in the first year and 2.75 per cent in years two and three. Sick leave and pensions are also issues.

The average starting wage for postal workers is $23 an hour.