Canada Post strike resumes in Hamilton as back-to-work bill gets closer look

Canada Post strike resumes in Hamilton as back-to-work bill gets closer look
Canada Post union threatening members if they accept overtime during strikes
Members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers could be kicked out of the union if they go against CUPW’s pressure tactic of refusing overtime during the rotating strikes.

“Working on your rotation day (RDO) is a violation of the National Overtime Ban. This is a legal strike action. All CUPW members must follow this direction. You will be subjected to Articles 8 charges under the National Constitution.”

Article 8 of the CUPW National Constitution refers to discipline that could be imposed on members who violate national orders such as a national strike, as laid out in section 8.02(e), “if he/she impeded or acted in opposition to a strike or any other collective action of the Union”.

CUPW spokesperson Emilie Tobin wouldn’t comment on the memo, but did say those penalties apply to every member even in times where there is not a labour disruption.

Picket lines were up Monday in parts of British Columbia, including Vancouver, Richmond and Surrey, and in parts of Ontario, including Hamilton, Ajax, North York, Pickering and London. Workers also walked off the job in Halifax and Dartmouth, N.S.

A spokesperson for Canada Post told Global News that the corporation often asks workers to come in at this time of the year on rotation days, in order to clear the backlog of holiday parcels.

Once enacted, Bill C-89 would impose fines of between $1,000 and $50,000 per day on anyone found in contravention of the Act, and up to $100,000 per day against Canada Post or the union if they are found guilty of violating its terms.

“On weekends during the holidays last year we delivered 3.6 million parcels,” said Jon Hamilton, Canada Post spokesperson.

Canada Post said it expected to make about 30,000 deliveries of parcels to Canadians over the past two days — a far cry from the 500,000 deliveries that a company spokesman said was normal for a late-November weekend.

Hamilton notes that Canada Post had planned to deliver 500,000 parcels across the country this weekend to keep pace. With the labour disruption, however, their projections have them delivering around 30,000 parcels this weekend.

But the Liberal governments bill is \”different,\” Labour Minister Patty Hajdu said shortly after the legislation was tabled in the Commons, in that it does not impose immediate outcomes affecting postal contracts.

Saturday, in a rare weekend sitting, the Senate was told there are are 1,000,000 pieces of mail waiting to be delivered.

But despite an initial plan to continue debate — and possibly hold a vote — on Sunday, senators chose instead to give themselves an extra day to digest hours of witness testimony on the labour dispute.

Canada Post’s interim president and CEO Jessica McDonald told senators that the backlog could take weeks to clear, pushing them well past January. However, CUPW National President Mike Palecek told the upper chamber it would only take his members one day to get back on track.

Unionized Canada Post workers are on strike there, and the union has also shut down operations at the York Distribution Centre in Scarborough. It’s the second time this month job action has affected operations in London.

Senators spent much of the day grilling witnesses about the rotating strikes and the apparent urgency to pass back-to-work legislation. Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour Patty Hajdu and Public Works and Government Services minister Carla Qualtrough were questioned for more than 90 minutes, while McDonald and the CUPW’s national president were both grilled for more than an hour.

This could be the last full day of strike action, though, because the federal government passed three readings of back-to-work legislation over the weekend and sent the bill over to the Senate for further debate.

Bill C-89, the Canada Post back-to-work legislation, could have gone to a vote on Saturday, but several members of the Independent Senators Group (ISG) worry it might be unconstitutional because it violates the workers rights to free bargaining.

“If senators are being asked to pass legislation that breaches the Charter, we should know that there’s a breach of the Charter and now we’re left to contend with that issue on our own, and it’s unfair,” said ISG member and senator Murray Sinclair.

Bargaining between CUPW and Canada Post continues as the two sides attempt to reach a negotiated settlement.

In 2011, the Conservative government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper passed back-to-work legislation to end the last Canada Post strike, but it was later struck down in the Supreme Court of Canada after being deemed unconstitutional.

“If that bill gets passed, the postal workers in London and all across Canada will be going back to work in the same working conditions, with the same collective agreement we have had and that we are trying to get fixed,” she said. “It will force people to work extra hours, beyond what they want to, they won’t have family life, and it’s very unsafe.”

The final vote on C-89 could come Monday afternoon, meaning Canada Post workers could be forced back on the job as early as Tuesday at noon.

Before looking at why the Senate made the last-minute call to hit pause on Team Trudeaus bid to end the rotating strikes at Canada Post, a quick caveat: As an unabashed non-expert on labour law, Process Nerd is wildly unqualified to comment on the pros and cons of the legislation itself, so none of the following analysis is aimed at the substance of the legislation, and will instead focus on… well, the process, and specifically, the right (or not) of the upper house to defy the governments preferred timeline in exercising its constitutional duty to deliver sober, second thought.

For those who may have missed the latest twists and turns in the legislative plot, a brief recap: After forcing through a pre-emptive motion limiting debate on its back-to-work proposal to just four hours, the government used its majority to propel the bill through the House of Commons in just one sitting day, with the bill landing on the Senate agenda on Saturday morning.

Those walkouts have led to backlogs of mail and parcel deliveries at the Crown corporation’s sorting plants, with Southwestern Ontario being one of the hardest-hit areas in the country because of a backlog of hundreds of transport trailers sitting idle at Canada Post’s main Toronto sorting facility.

Initially, the upper house had planned to sit through the weekend in order to get it to the Royal Assent finish line by Monday.

But following a lightning-round committee of the whole with Team Trudeau leads Employment Minister Patty Hajdu, Public Services Minister Carla Qualtrough, as well as senior officials from both Canada Post and the union representing striking postal workers, they decided to take a day to mull over what they heard before moving on to the final stage of debate, which is set to resume later today.

In a nutshell: A critical mass of chamber denizens — including those aligned with both the Senate Liberal and capital-I Independent caucuses — simply havent been convinced that the current impasse is so dire that government intervention is needed. Theyre also concerned that the bill as drafted could violate the Charter of Rights, which past court rulings have concluded explicitly protects collective bargaining rights.

Canada Post employees in London took over a postal facility, and picketed outside seven others, to protest the federal governments decision to table back-to-work legislation that would end nationwide rotating mail strikes.

For its part, the government did eventually produce a Charter impact statement on the bill, which was delivered to senators just after midnight on Saturday morning.

Senators resume debate on postal legislation after taking a day to reflect

That statement, which is available for review online, attempts to make the case that the bill is consistent with the Charter, and lists all the ways the government attempted to bridge the gap between the two sides before turning to legislation, including appointing several mediators and urging the parties to consider voluntary arbitration.

But as retired federal judge-turned-parliamentarian Sen. Murray Sinclair noted, it fell considerably short of his expectation that it lay out the legal argument in support of the draft bill.

It doesnt even acknowledge that there is a Charter breach, he pointed out to his colleagues.

For a Charter assessment to be helpful to us, I think it at least has to acknowledge that the legislation is, on its face, very similar to what was done in 2011 with regard to that particular legislation, in that, by interfering with the right of employees to withdraw their services, it does, in fact, become a breach of the Charter.

According to the precedent set by the courts, he noted, such breaches are not automatically verboten, but must be justified under section 1 of the Charter, which the statement fails to do.

No, its not that broad. A federal or provincial government can mandate some employees back to work if the type of job they have is deemed essential to issues like health and security, Mac Neil said.

We dont see an acknowledgment that there is a Charter breach, he stressed. We dont see the section 1 analysis. There is a brief discussion about the importance of the legislation because its interfering with the publics right to get mail, and businesses are suffering; however, there is no proof provided in the document, or in any of the information provided to us, that that is, in fact, the case.

Hajdu said the Liberals maintain that the best outcome is one that is reached by both parties at the negotiating table, but if that cant happen, then the government would have to intervene.

Independent Liberal Sen. Serge Joyal — who tends to act as the chambers in-house constitutional scholar at large — commented that it seemed to have been put together very quickly, and, in his view, doesnt, in my opinion, satisfy those aspects of the course to be run to be sure that this legislation is constitutionally sound.

Several senators, including Sinclair and one-time provincial New Democrat minister Frances Lankin, also questioned the use of anecdotal evidence to highlight the ostensible urgency of the matter — such as an oft-repeated claim related to the backlog of hundreds of trucks, which Canadian Union of Postal Workers president Mike Palecek dismissed as fiction.

Canada Post workers on strike across Lower Mainland as legislation looms

So, leaving aside the merits (or lack thereof) of the bill itself, its worth noting that the Senate is, of course, master of its own destiny, at least as far as allocating time to consider proposed legislation — and that holds true, even if the government is pushing for a swift outcome.

In fact, the new reality of the Independent-dominated Senate makes the decision to hold off until Monday even more defensible, as it would be difficult, if not impossible, to claim that the majority who want more time to weigh the implications of the bill are being driven by partisan politics (particularly since most of the senators who expressed concerns about the bill during the initial debate were appointed under the current government).

Its even possible — though unlikely — that when the debate resumes this afternoon, one or more senators could attempt to amend the bill, which would also be entirely within their mandate, even if it could delay final passage of the back-to-work order even further.