On October 5, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers and Canada Post arrived at a tentative agreement. They did so without the arbitration process imposed upon them by the federal government following the employer lockout in the spring of 2011. The arbitration process was delayed for months as CUPW challenged the federal Minister of Labour Lisa Raitt’s appointed arbitrators. The first arbitrator was removed for having no background in labour relations and for not being bilingual. The second arbitrator, a former Tory MP candidate, Guy Dufort, refused to step down in April when called upon by CUPW, and was finally removed after a Federal Court of Justice ruling in August.
The tentative agreement has already generated opposition in many CUPW locals. As outlined in the letter below, it involves proposed concessions that were rejected by members in 2011 prior to the strike and subsequent lockout. These concessions include two-tier wages and pensions for new hires, and concessions on other benefits. As one Edmonton CUPW member explained to me, accepting the deal would mean alienating new hires and dealing a severe blow to solidarity within the union.
Considering the labour movement as a whole, accepting a two-tier wage and pension scheme for new hires would also send the wrong signal to both workers and employers in the wake of the recently ratified two-tier contract between the CAW and the Detroit Big Three automakers. Will 2012 be the year in which two of Canada’s most historically militant no-concession unions, capitulate to two-tier contracts?
With ratification votes taking place between November 13 and December 19, there may be time for a “No” campaign to develop and gain substantial ground. The National Executive Board is recommending a “Yes” vote, but some CUPW members, including elected union officials, are already calling for a “No” vote. One such example is the following message from Jeff Callaghan, the CUPW National Director for the Atlantic Region, to CUPW members in the Urban Operations bargaining unit.
** FROM THE NATIONAL DIRECTOR FOR THE ATLANTIC REGION **
VOTE “NO” TO URBAN OPS AGREEMENT
Sisters and Brothers
By now you would have heard the Union has reached a tentative collective agreement with the employer for the Urban Operations bargaining unit. While I think it is important to acknowledge the efforts of our negotiations committee, I am writing this letter to encourage all Urban Ops members to vote “No” to their agreement.
Rock and a Hard Place?
In the days and weeks to follow much will be said by those who support this agreement: that the Union had no choice but to agree given the injustice of the final offer selection process in the back-to-work legislation and the decline in mail volumes and revenues for the employer. I understand these are difficult times and that it would be better if all this uncertainty just simply go away. After all there are many recent examples of unions that found themselves in the same situation as CUPW and whose leadership reluctantly agreed to concession bargain with their employer because the right to free collective bargaining was stripped away. I know it is far easier to simply take what the employer is prepared to offer.
But that strategy is not one that CUPW has ever followed. Our strategy has been to ensure a strong and militant membership that always understood the issues and knew the only means of achieving improvements and protections from the employer rested in their collective strength. CUPW never settled for what was being offered; CUPW always stood and fought for what was deserved.
What does it mean to vote “Yes”?
Before you make your decision, please consider the following. The tentative agreement you are being asked to ratify includes many of the same rollbacks members voted overwhelming against and went on strike just last year to oppose: accepting to give up our Sick Leave benefits for STD, eliminating a wash-up break and the imposition of a two-tier wage scheme for new hires.
It also includes a major change to our Defined Contribution Pension Plan for new hires. So while wages, benefits and pensions of current workers are protected, for now, workers coming into the post office will face a totally different picture. They will start working beside you making $6 an hour less and will have to work almost a third of their career before they make what you make in wages (7 years). These workers will also have to work 5 extra years before they will become eligible to retire.
These same workers which we, by agreeing to this agreement, have burdened with lower wages and longer years to retire will very shortly be the ones responsible for protecting the rights, benefits and pension of senior or retired workers. Who will they fight to protect when it comes to deciding between them and us? Members knew they had to resist all the employer/government’s attempts to divide them, clearly something our negotiations committee and majority of the NEB have forgotten by recommending “Yes” to this deal.
What will my “NO” vote mean?
Contrary to what the majority of the National Executive Board would have us believe, there is another option for CUPW; it’s the same option workers have always chosen to stand up and fight back. CUPW has always stood up to an employer hell bent on breaking us and stripping away our rights and on every occasion, an employer who always had a federal government in their pocket. And while the cards have never been stacked in the workers’ favour, that never stopped us from taking on those challenges together. This is another one of those challenges.
Voting “No” to this agreement means the fight to protect and improve our rights and benefits will continue. The Union at all levels will continue to organize and challenge the employer (and the government) through the legislation and court system and we will take action to ensure workers are once again mobilized to fight back, just as we were last June.
Vote “No” to this tentative agreement and tell the employer this is far from over.
The Struggle Continues!