BUSINESS
06/08/2011 07:06 EDT | Updated 08/08/2011 05:12 EDT

Canada Post Strike: Calgary, Edmonton Next Cities To Face Action

CP

THE CANADIAN PRESS -- TORONTO - Canada's postal workers will stick to their strategy of limited rotating strikes for another day but escalation to a wider pressure tactic has been debated by their leaders.

The union announced late Tuesday that postal workers in Calgary and Edmonton would be off the job on Wednesday, in the sixth day of rotating strikes.

A spokesman for the Canadian Union of Postal Workers says escalation was discussed Tuesday as has been every day, but CUPW will continue the less disruptive localized strikes for now.

"We're continuing with the rolling 24-hour walkouts at this time and for the next 24 hours," John Bail, CUPW's national director for the Pacific region, said Tuesday evening.

"At this point in time we don't see a need to deprive the public entirely of all their postal service."

About 1,000 postal workers were on strike Tuesday in Moncton, N.B., and Victoria and earlier strikes were held in Winnipeg, Hamilton and Montreal.

Canada Post spokesman Jon Hamilton said strikes in Calgary and Edmonton are "completely unnecessary as CUPW has still not responded to our latest offer."

"The people of Alberta should be asking why the union is stopping their mail service when the company is offering wage increases, job security, a defined benefit pension, seven weeks of vacation and more."

Bail said Calgary and Edmonton were chosen because they are suffering from a chronic shortage of Canada Post workers.

There is a difference between Canada Post's wage proposal and the union's, but it's not insurmountable, Bail said.

A bigger sticking point is the union's position that Canada Post should convert more temporary jobs to permanent and more part-time jobs to full-time, Bail said.

Earlier Tuesday, Canada Post said the strikes have already had a severe impact on its business, dropping mail volumes as much as 50 per cent since they began.

"This decline in volume comes at a time when the company is already struggling to address significant business challenges," the corporation said in a statement.

"Canada Post does not understand why the Canadian Union of Postal Workers would willingly damage the business with strike action when the company has put a strong offer on the table."

Canada Post said its latest offer includes annual wage increases that for current employees would bring the top wage rate to $26 an hour, job security, no changes to a defined benefit pension plan, medical benefits and "generous" vacation leave that tops out at seven weeks per year.

Future hires would get a starting wage of $19 an hour, rising to a maximum $26 an hour, up to six weeks vacation and a defined benefit pension by age 60.

"The package for new employees is still superior to the wages and benefits offered by competing logistic and delivery companies," Canada Post said.

"Equally important, these changes will help Canada Post manage labour costs that take-up two-thirds of its revenues."

Labour experts agree that a rotating strike strategy is an effective bargaining tool for a union because it keeps employers guessing and scrambling to prepare as it learns the union's next move, but the tactic also has drawbacks that could drag a labour dispute out.

"The disadvantages are that it doesn't bring the full force of workers' bargaining power to bear -- the bargaining power of the union is its greatest when all members withdraw their labour and try to use that to pressure the employer to move in negotiations," said David Camfield, Associate Professor in the Department of Labour Studies at the University of Manitoba.

He said there are too many factors to predict how long the strike could last, including the potential of federal back-to-work legislation.

Larry Savage, a professor of labour studies and political science at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont. said that the rotating strikes have been drawing media and the public's attention to a labour dispute that was previously low-profile and could end up being just a step to a full-out strike.

"The combination of strategies can be effective because rotating strikes allows the union to test the level of support across the country before deciding to allocate resources to a full-scale walkout nationally," he said.

But even though the strikes have been localized so far, businesses are already suffering as customers forego making some purchases as they fear their package or cheque might get stuck in the mail, said Dan Kelly of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

Businesses are complaining that customers who would normally buy online are going to stores instead, he added.

"So some online retailers are starting to tell us that the threat of a (national) strike is actually causing an impact on their business, not the actual action of slowdown or stoppage that's happened to date," he said.