Despite protests and a filibuster by the federal NDP to delay its passage through Parliament, the Conservative government passed back-to-work legislation, ordering Canada Post and postal workers to get back to the business of delivering the mail.
The House of Commons passed Bill C-6 Saturday night after a 58-hour marathon debate, imposing a settlement and ending the lockout of nearly 50,000 postal workers that began June 14 after a series of rotating strikes at selected cities across the country.
Dan Albas, Conservative MP for Okanagan Coquihalla, voted in support of Bill C-6. He said he heard from many constituents that postal delivery was still a critical need and that they were being adversely affected by the strike.
“I do recognize that there are those who will be unhappy with the back-to-work legislation, and disappointed that I voted in favour of it,” said Albas. “While I doubt there will ever be unanimous agreement in a democratically diverse country like Canada, in this case the real life challenges that this labour dispute was creating could not be ignored.”
Mail deliveries resumed Tuesday, but it may be sometime before they are caught up with the backlog, mail piled up from the weeks of job action and the lockout, according to Barb Perry, president of Penticton local 769 of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers.
“Right now, they aren’t authorizing any overtime and there is a lot of mail here to be delivered. That means that letter carriers are going to take out what they can deliver today and then bring back the rest,” said Perry. “So not everyone is going to get mail today, even though we are back to work.”
And that, Perry said, is just dealing with the mail they had on hand — they’ve yet to receive mail being processed in Vancouver and other major centres.
Last Friday, Penticton posties marched from the main post office on Industrial Avenue to rally outside Albas’ downtown offices, protesting the back-to-work legislation.
“It took many years of struggle with the corporation to achieve what we have now. And why should we have to give it away?” Perry told the crowd on Friday. Incongruously, she also advised the group of postal workers and bystanders to send emails or notes to members of Parliament.
“Let the government know that you would like to see us back at work with a fair negotiated settlement, not one shoved down our throats that is designed by the government to take more away than what we were originally promised by our own company,” she said.
“Letter carriers and inside workers are very upset that we’re the ones, even though we offered to go back to work, that are being penalized by this piece of legislation,” said Perry.
All they wanted, she continued, was to have the old contract back while a new one was being negotiated. Instead, they got an imposed settlement with lower wage rates than those originally offered by Canada Post, along with a restrictive arbitration process to deal with non-wage related issues.
“For us, it was the workers that come behind us and what they want to do with our pensions and our sick times and other things that we already had that they want to take away,” said Perry.
Under the imposed settlement, the two sides will now go into what Perry calls “final-offer arbitration,” which means that both sides get to put a settlement before an arbitrator who will pick one or the other.
The arbitrator will have to take a settlement in its entirety, with no chance to mix parts from the two, explained Perry, adding that once the proposals are sent in, there will be no further discussion from either side.
“It’s not a very nice time to come back to work, because we honestly don’t know what the employer is going to be doing to us,” she said.