Will they or won't they? The ongoing saga of Canada Post and CUPW.
Over the last couple of months you’ve seen the news that Canada Post and CUPW have not reached a renewal of the collective agreement that expired on January 31, 2016. You also might have heard or read about threats of lockouts and strikes and wondered if it is really going to happen or if it’s all talk. And if, like me and many other businesses, you’re unable to completely rely on electronic means of communication, this talk is a concern to you.
More than once in the last few weeks I’ve called a toll free business phone number and been met with a preamble about what the company is doing to address a potential work stoppage. Couriers are already getting busier as people anticipate the worst.
So is there going to be a strike, or what? Will Canada Post really lock them out?
My prediction is that Canada Post will not lock out the workers, and the workers won’t go on strike…yet.
Why won’t Canada Post lock out the workers? Aside from insider details to which I am not privy, I think a key issue is optics. Lockouts typically occur only when the ability for a business to operate is threatened by continuing to honour a contract, or when the company feels so strongly about changing the contract that stopping production is an option. The latter reasoning was employed by the NHL roughly a decade ago when the owners locked out the players. Given the important role Canada Post plays in the economy and the fact that there are no shareholders to cry foul about the existing contract, it’s my opinion that a lockout by Canada Post would be a drastic move and would require significant explaining to a public that has not, to this point, been told that Canada Post can’t operate under the existing terms. People want their mail (bills excepted) and their parcels, and businesses want to operate smoothly and not be inconvenienced by the need to find a courier on short notice. A work stoppage imposed by Canada Post may not only be seen as move against the workers, but also a move imposed on those of us relying on mail service. I think it would significantly impact public support for Canada Post.
Now to CUPW – will they strike? Well, the optics issue is a concern here as well. I happen to think that if there is a work stoppage, the majority of public support will be with the side that did not trigger the stoppage. While public opinion has no direct impact on bargaining positions, it does create pressure, particularly from the employees who aren’t close to the bargaining table and may be influenced more by what they’re hearing in the public than what they’re told by their union.
CUPW seem to be doing a great job with communications to member, issuing daily releases (and sometimes more) throughout June and July. The tone of those releases has softened over the last few weeks and is now focused more on progress being made than outcry about Canada Post’s tactics.
On June 26, CUPW released a list of 24 outstanding demands, some of which, in my opinion, may not even be negotiable. When I reviewed these outstanding issues, I began to seriously doubt CUPW’s willingness to strike at that point. Strikes tend to occur when there are a few very significant, must-have issues outstanding and every last effort has been made to accomplish them. As must-haves go, 24 items is just too many, and this is where union member and public support again come into the thought process.
Moving forward to July 8, CUPW issued a memo explaining why the union would not agree to Canada Post’s proposal to arbitrate. CUPW provides solid reasoning here, but they leave a little bit out. Just as 24 items might be too many for union members and the public to accept as the cause of a work stoppage, arbitrators may be less sympathetic to a party that asks for so much to be awarded in its favour in one round of bargaining. In other words, it is to Canada Post’s benefit to allow an arbitrator to see that the union is still pushing 24 proposals as it may make Canada Post look like the more reasonable party. CUPW’s opposition to arbitration is expected, as putting the final decision in the hands of an arbitrator takes control away from the parties, and CUPW would run the risk of having an arbitrator decide on 24 of their proposals and issue an award that doesn’t include any of the real must-haves. In these situations, it is better to make strong arguments about a few key issues than to expect an arbitrator to understand multiple proposals and how the parties have prioritized them.
As it stands today, the parties seem to be making progress. This doesn’t guarantee a deal, as the most contentious items are often addressed last, which means positivity and progress can come to a screeching halt. I expect that the parties will reach a negotiated agreement without any disruptions to mail delivery, and hope they do so swiftly in the interest of thousands of Canada Post employees, their families, and those of us who rely on the mail.