10 June 2011
Postal negotiations stalled; layoffs in mailing industry
OTTAWA—As CUPW union members in Kitchener and Quebec City take their turn on the 24-hour rotating picket lines Friday, Canada Post says negotiations have stalled. Meanwhile, the National Association of Major Mail Users (NAMMU) says there have been more than 15,000 layoffs in the mailing industry as clients cancel direct-mail programs because of the labour disruption.

"Canada Post and CUPW remain far apart on several fundamental issues," says the post office. "The union today rejected major compromises proposed by Canada Post to address sick leave and staffing levels. CUPW also refuses to discuss any initiatives that will reduce costs and address the problems of declining mail volumes, increasing competition and electronic substitutions of traditional mail."

At the MagNet conference in Toronto this week, many publishers told Masthead the strike has speeded up their digital edition programs. Publishers are offering concerned subscribers the option of receiving digital editions, and have already put in place plans to greatly expand digital edition programs if the rotating strikes develop into a full-blown national strike or shutdown.

Some publishers are also switching to PayPal for electronic invoicing and bill payments as a result of the strikes.

In an open letter to employees, Canada Post COO Jacques Côté wrote: "At this point, we feel that the company has taken every reasonable step it can to try to reach a responsible settlement, one that would allow Canada Post to pay higher wages while closing the pension gap and ensuring that we can reinvest in our business. If the union does not change their entrenched position, I am afraid we are in for a long dispute."

On Friday, the rotating strikes will move to Quebec and Kitchener. But both those locations have already been put on reduced service as rapidly declining mail volumes force Canada Post to shrink operations. "In both these locations, Canada Post has downsized, closing a mail processing plant and trucking mail from Kitchener to Toronto to be sorted," CUPW stated in a release.

The union says that while Canada Post has moved on some issues, the crown corporation "continues to dismiss important health and safety issues, as well as rejecting proposals for innovation and service expansion."

For its part, NAMMU said the economic impact of the labour disruption has reached a "tipping point with the mail industry." The low volumes experienced reflect the impact of large and small mailers walking away from the mail channel to alternatives that may prove to be cost effective. Much of this business will not be back, said the association.

NAMMU has urged Labour Minister Lisa Raitt to bring the parties back to the table before many of the issues under negotiation are moot. "We need to get back to work," said NAMMU president Kathleen Rowe.
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