U.S. unions stand against Canadian postal union-busting
Jeff McIntosh/AP

WASHINGTON—Chanting “Trudeau, you know union-busting gotta go!” almost 100 U.S. unionists, led by the Postal Workers and the Letter Carriers, marched outside the Canadian Embassy in Washington in solidarity with their Canadian brothers and sisters, who were forced into a series of 1-day rolling strikes – strikes halted by an hastily passed Canadian law.

Their cause? Canada Post’s refusal to negotiate a new contract with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, followed by legislation Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pushed through parliament less than two months ago outlawing public worker strikes and curbing collective bargaining.

That measure breaks the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the equivalent of our Constitution, which – unlike our basic charter – enshrines the right to strike, CUPW says.

Trudeau’s attempt at union-busting not only is illegal there but a threat to unions here, said Postal Workers President Mark Dimondstein, who led the D.C. protest. Members of the Letter Carriers, the Bakery Workers – one who came is a Toronto native – the Coalition of Labor Union Women, National Nurses United, the Service Employees and the Teamsters joined in.

“If their collective bargaining rights are on the line in Canada, it’s a threat to us as well,” Dimondstein said in an interview before the informational picketing began in front of the embassy. “When you take away rights under the Canadian Charter, it’s a huge blow there” – to workers and Canadian citizens – “and here.”

Like their Canadian counterparts, U.S. postal workers face the same threat from the GOP Trump administration, Dimondstein and other speakers reminded the crowd. A special Trump panel on postal “reorganization” – the Trump government’s euphemism for privatization, APWU says – also recommends yanking collective bargaining rights, including the right to strike, from USPS employees.

Key issues in the Canadian conflict are safety on the job – injuries have risen 43 percent in the last two years – pay equity for female workers and a ban on forced overtime. They also want a raise. Canada Post has the money: Increased package shipments, thanks to the Internet, gave it a $144 million profit last year. But management refuses to bargain.

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers and Canada Post must undergo mandatory mediation and arbitration before the union can exercise its right to strike. But Canada Post unilaterally rejected the union’s last contract offer on Nov. 19.

That left the union free to strike and it was doing so, in a series of 1-day rolling strikes, which caused minimal delays. Then Trudeau pushed through the anti-strike law. The union challenged it in Ontario courts, and won a ruling on Dec. 11 saying Trudeau’s law breaks the Canadian Charter.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Labour Congress – the equivalent of the AFL-CIO – rallied in solidarity with the postal union, and Canada Post bargainers stalked out of mediation talks.

“We’re here in solidarity with our Canadian sisters and brothers,” Dimondstein told the crowd before leading a 5-person delegation up the embassy stairs to hand-deliver a letter demanding the Trudeau government order Canada Post back to bargaining to repeal the law.

The hired security guard wouldn’t even let them in, and Dimondstein will mail the letter, also signed by (U.S.) Letter Carriers President Fredric Rolando, to the ambassador. The U.S. unionists’ last chant was “Let us in!”

“This (Canadian) Liberal government claims to be on the side of workers, but they passed an anti-worker piece of legislation,” Dimondstein said. The Canadian postal union “is fighting right now for something that’s central to all unions – the right to collective bargaining,” added Letter Carriers Executive Vice President Brian Renfroe.

“You cannot legislate labour peace,” CUPW President Mike Palecek said when the union went to court. “This law violates our right to free collective bargaining under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

The union’s fact sheet predicted Trudeau’s law, by forcing the workers to end the rotating strikes, would produce at least 315 disabling injuries between Thanksgiving and Christmas, force rural and suburban carriers to work 250,000 hours without pay and force urban postal works to toil for “thousands of hours of forced overtime.

“In 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada declared the right to strike to be fundamental and protected” by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“The Liberal government’s legislation, just like the previous Conservative government’s” anti-strike law in 2011, “unilaterally prohibits any lawful strike,” the union’s constitutional lawyer Paul Cavalluzzo said on its website.

“Canada Post created a false emergency, the supposed backlog of parcels, to get the government to intervene with back to work legislation. This legislation was enacted under circumstances that did not justify the interference of constitutional rights.”


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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