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Government passes back-to-work bill

New Democratic Partys 58-hour filibuster fights for free collective bargaining
Laura Walz

Postal workers across the country returned to work this week, after back-to-work legislation was passed late Sunday. Canada Post locked out members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) on June 15, after the union organized a series of rotating strikes for two weeks.

Bill C-6 received royal assent Sunday evening. The bill was passed by the Senate following a 58-hour filibuster in the House of Commons led by the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP).

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the majority Conservative government passed the bill in the House of Commons on Saturday. The NDP had also proposed amendments, which included a provision to remove the salary terms that undercut union wages, but its attempts failed.

In a bulletin, CUPW called the bill unjust and punitive. “The government is clearly willing to side with employers to grind down wages and working conditions,” said Denis Lemelin, CUPW national president. “Its decision to use back-to-work legislation in the Canada Post and Air Canada disputes was not neutral. The Conservatives have shown themselves to be very anti-worker after only two months of majority government.”

The government said the lockout was hurting the country’s economy and its intention was not to side with management.

Mail was delivered yesterday and post offices were open. Canada Post said any mail in the system at the time of the work disruption has been secured for processing and delivery, but it would take “some time to stabilize our operations and to return to our normal delivery standards.”

Members of CUPW Local 808 had support last Friday, June 24. Members of the Health Employees Union (HEU) joined postal workers at the post office, on the corner of Joyce Avenue and Alberni Street.

“We think it’s disgusting what Harper is doing to these folks,” said Kerry Keller, a HEU representative. “He’s basically saying there is no collective bargaining and he’s just legislating them back to work. He’s totally ignoring the collective bargaining process and we’re afraid he’s going to do the same thing to any other public sector worker. It’s only going to drag everybody’s wages down.”

Roy Mabbett, Local 808 shop steward, said CUPW members were glad to see the support from HEU, as well as community support, shown by honking, doughnuts and people stopping by to ask questions. “People still think of this as a strike, but we were locked out,” he said. “There was some inconvenience from the rotating strikes, but it was not shutting down the postal system.”

Mabbett said he thinks Canada Post was waiting for Labour Minister Lisa Raitt and the Harper government to do “its dirty work. There had been issues that were settled during ongoing negotiations. We were down to three or four major issues and a lot of the other ones were settled.”

As soon as the Harper Conservatives got a majority, those things came off the table, Mabbett said. He pointed to the two-tier wage system as an example.

New workers will get lower wages, fewer benefits and a poorer pension plan than existing members of the union under the new law. It imposes a four-year contract on the workers, specifies pay increases and leaves other disputed issues to binding arbitration. It also provides union members with slightly lower wages than the last offer from the post office.

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