Canada Post union deal in sight after two years of talks

After two years of bargaining, Canada Post finally reached a “tentative” new labour agreement with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) on Friday afternoon, subject to a membership vote. Neither side released any details of the agreement over the weekend, with officials playing carefully ahead of a vote by union members.

CUPW began talks with management regarding salary and benefits for its 48,000 of its members back in October 2010, but a huge gulf appeared between the two sides, culminating in a damaging month of strikes and lockouts in June 2011.

Negotiations between the two sides have been bogged down over the past 12 months in an arbitration process that has seen union pressure, including legal action, forcing two different arbitrators to quit before making a decision.

But late on Friday the union confirmed in a brief statement: “This afternoon after many weeks of discussion and some very tough decisions, the Union and Canada Post have reached a tentative agreement for the Urban Operations collective agreement.”

The union said details of the deal were being kept under wraps until early this week, “to ensure that the members receive accurate information”.

The deal remains subject to approval by the membership at large.

Separately on Friday, Canada Post and CUPW also secured a tentative agreement for the union’s rural and suburban workers, who number around 6,000 and have been negotiating since October 2011, with their last deal running out at the end of December 2011. The rural and suburban contract must also be ratified by members.

Conflict

CUPW’s last urban unit labour contract ran out at the end of January 2011.

During two years of negotiations for the next contract, CUPW’s demands for pay increases were based on Canada Post’s recent financial history of 16 consecutive years of profitability. On the other hand Canada Post argued that its finances were about to slide, thanks in part to an accelerating decline in mail volumes, and that it needed to be cautious with the next labour agreement, adding flexibility to help cope with the difficult postal market.

Canada Post has blamed the June 2011 strike action and resulting national lockout for further accelerating its mail volume declines, as more customers were pushed into alternative communications channels, as well as for affecting costs more directly during the stoppage time itself.

For its part, the union has accused the Corporation of talking up the claimed $200m impact of the industrial action in order to gain an upper hand in the negotiations.

The Canadian government had to step in to force workers back to work at the end of June, with back-to-work legislation that set a basic pay increase but required arbitration to iron out the details of a new contract.

After two arbitrators were forced out, Canada Post management issued a fresh offer to CUPW this July, warning that further delay in agreeing the labour contract would see its financial situation deteriorate further, with the suggestion that if the union wanted to wait for an arbitrator to decide on a contract, contract conditions could be tougher.

“Very pleased”

At the weekend, Canada’s labour minister Lisa said she was “very pleased” that the two sides had ultimately been able to agree a contract rather than having a deal imposed by an arbitrator.

“I have always said that the best solution to any labour dispute is one that the parties reach themselves,” she said.

“I have always said that nothing in the legislation prevented the parties from negotiating, and I commend them on independently coming together to find solutions and reach a tentative agreement.”

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