By Chloe Rockarts
Since postal workers were legislated back to work on Tuesday, November 27, picket lines have been organized across the country by unions and labour groups in support of postal workers and the right to strike.
Picketers have stopped mail entering and exiting at Canada Post processing centres, distribution facilities and plants in Vancouver, Richmond, Surrey, Edmonton, Mississauga, Ottawa, Oshawa, Whitehorse, Windsor, London and twice in both Halifax and Hamilton.
Solidarity with postal workers
The December 1 National Day of Action saw over 25 cities take part in rallying in support of postal workers and the right to strike. The events, planned by the Friends of Public Services, aimed to send a message of support to the postal workers legislated back to work and to tell the government and Canada Post management to negotiate not legislate.
Following the passing of the back to work legislation, Mike Palecek, President of CUPW said, “in the coming days we will be calling on our allies and membership for a campaign of mobilizations, demonstrations and non-violent civil disobedience.”
Bill C-89, the Postal Services Resumption and Continuation Act, which ordered CUPW back to work imposes thousands of dollars in fines on CUPW members, union officers and the union itself if defied.
Local labour councils, unions and community groups have launched solidarity actions in response to the legal restrictions placed on CUPW and their membership. The strategy of these community pickets involves letting workers starting and finishing their shifts through the blockades, while impeding trucks with mail from entering or exiting the Canada Post facilities.
Trade unionists and community members have chosen this strategy recognizing the necessity of putting pressure on the corporation and the federal government to rescind the legislation, while not harming the postal workers themselves.
“Trudeau and the Liberals may think they can pretend to be friends of unions, but we are watching this fight closely and our support actions are just getting started. Nothing will end the pressure they all feel on this except a negotiated agreement with CUPW.” said Walter.
Following pickets in Edmonton, Canada Post was granted an injunction for the province. Similar injunctions have been established in B.C. and Ontario, with the latest injunction being read at Monday’s picket in Hamilton. At both the Mississauga and second Hamilton action, picketers continued to hold the line for over four hours despite the sheriff’s ‘Notice of Injunction Regarding Protesting and Related Activities’.
Arrests made in Halifax
Sunday evening’s actions at the distribution centre in Halifax, which began at 6PM resulted in arrests of Tony Tracy, Atlantic representative of the Canadian Labour Congress, Darius Mirshahi, an organizer with Service Employees International Union and four others. At the previous Halifax picket on November 30, Halifax Regional Police had informed picketers that they had the right to protest. Despite the injunctions in effect in other provinces, no such ban on protesting had been in place in Nova Scotia at the time of these arrests.
“The right to full and fair collective bargaining, and the fundamental Charter-protected right to strike, are always worth defending. Bosses and governments have never given us rights that we haven’t fought for, and those “rights” are meaningless if not defended,” said Tracy, in a statement on Facebook.
While the back-to-work legislation only affects postal workers, police stated that the arrests were made for refusing to move off a roadway, charging the six with mischief and obstruction. The six arrested were held overnight, and made an appearance at the courthouse Monday morning, after being released in the afternoon. Those charged have been ordered not to be within a 100 metres of a Canada Post office unless mailing or receiving mail, and will appear in court again in January.
We know our fight is just, we know our demands for our health and safety and for equity between our Urban and Rural members needs to be achieved now and with the help of our allies we are hopeful that this will happen,” stated Toni MacAfee, Atlantic regional representative and postal worker in Halifax. ”We are so thankful to each worker, community ally and activist across this country for all they are doing. We can’t stop now. We need to keep pushing.”
Legislating postal workers back to work takes away the right to strike protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Constitution. While the bill doesn’t impose a settlement, CUPW plans on challenging the legislation as an unreasonable limit on Section 1 of workers Charter rights. According to a statement on CUPW’s website, legislating the striking postal workers back-to-work without having their demands of workload issues, inequities between urban and rural mail carriers and forced overtime addressed. According to CUPW between the time the legislation was passed and the holidays will result in 315 disabling injuries, 250,000 hours without pay, and thousands of hours in forced overtime.
Several protesters interrupted the Beaches-East York nomination meeting for Liberal candidate Nathaniel Erskine-Smith in Toronto Sunday afternoon. The protesters targeted Erskine-Smith because he voted in favour of back-to-work legislation, and whose riding is regarded as one of the more dangerous letter carrier routes in the Greater Toronto area.
“We want to hold the elected officials who voted for illegal back to work legislation accountable. They violated our charter rights and the rights of all Canadian workers with that legislation,” said Waseem Khan, a postal worker in Toronto who was involved in organizing the action. “We are just getting started and the actions will continue until they recognize our charter rights and stop supporting big business before those who do the work that make this society function.”
CUPW members have been without a contract for over a year. If Canada Post does not come to the table and reach an agreement with CUPW, arbitration will occur within the next 90 days (February 24, 2019). Legislating CUPW members back to work sets a dangerous precedent that a union’s right to strike and the Charter can be undermined simply because work stoppage comes at an important time for the employer.
On November 29, the BCGEU passed an emergency resolution to work with CUPW to regain the right to strike, promising a 3 million dollar interest free loan to achieve the union’s fight for a collective agreement. Other unions, such as CUPE and COPE, also pledged financial support to CUPW in the form of interest free loans.
CUPW’s strike and the back-to-work legislation have significant implications for the wider Canadian labour movement in terms of the right to strike. In the following weeks, many events will be organized to pressure Canada Post and the Liberal government to come to the table and negotiate. Those in Halifax can encourage local unions to help organize court support for the January 4 hearing.
Workers can keep supporting CUPW members through continuing to organize community pickets and other solidarity events in their communities, and by sending messages of support to their local postal workers.