Mail carrier Terree Blow pickets outside the downtown office at Yale Road and Nowell Street on Tuesday morning.

Mail carrier Terree Blow pickets outside the downtown office at Yale Road and Nowell Street on Tuesday morning.

Chilliwack postal workers locked out

A nationwide lockout imposed by Canada Post “is holding Canadian citizens hostage,” says locked-out Chilliwack letter carriers.

A nationwide lockout imposed by Canada Post “is holding Canadian citizens hostage,” says locked-out Chilliwack letter carriers.

On Wednesday morning, approximately 15 Chilliwack letter carriers stood outside the post office on Yale Road wearing sandwich boards with messages that read Locked out! and We want to deliver your mail, but Canada Post won’t let us.

“This isn’t a strike, it’s a lockout,” said Rick Hansen, vice president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) local 741, as vehicles drove by sounding horns in support.

“We want to work, but they won’t let us.”

One day after Canada Post had reduced its mail service delivery to three days a week in urban areas, including Chilliwack, the Crown Corporation outright suspended operations in urban areas across the country. It cited increasing costs and a decline in volume resulting from the union’s one-day rotating strikes as cause for the action.

Canada Post said the corporation has lost more than $100 million in revenue since the rotating strikes began June 3.

“A lockout is the best way to bring a timely resolution to this impasse and force the union to seriously consider proposals that address the declining mail volumes and the $3.2 billion pension deficit,” Canada Post said in a statement taped to the post office doors.

“If we allow the uncertainty created by the rotating strikes to continue, our ability to remain financially self-sufficient and not become a burden on Canadian taxpayers will be in jeopardy.”

The rotating strikes was the union’s way of showing displeasure with the “lack of negotiations,” said Hansen.

“With the rotating strikes, mail was delayed one day, and then it was back out on the road … most people probably didn’t even notice,” said Hansen. “But right now, no mail is moving, it’s not moving in the plants, it’s not being trucked anywhere, everything has stopped.”

Sardis residents theoretically shouldn’t be affected by the lockout as its carriers are Rural and Suburban Mail Carriers and are under a different contract. But because mail isn’t being transported in, Hansen said their work would quickly dry up.

Outgoing mail slots and street side letter boxes have been taped up.

The union had asked for wage hikes of 3.3 per cent in the first year and 2.75 per cent in each of the next three years.

Canada Post offered a four-year contract lifting pay 1.9 per cent in each of the first three years and 2.0 per cent in the fourth.

Issues at the table include changing technology, job procedures and concessions on wages and benefits for new hires.

Postal workers currently make at least $23 an hour, however Canada Post wanted the starting wage for new hires to begin at $19 an hour.

Canada Post says it must address labour costs as a result of a 17 per cent drop in letter-mail business since 2006 due to a rise in online bill payments and other electronic communications.

However, the union says accepting Canada Post’s offer would be a step backwards.

“Realistically, if we go back and accept the number on the table, we’ll be going back to the 1970s and ‘80s in terms of wages and benefits,” said Hansen.

“Being a letter carrier is a good job and we want to keep it a good job.”

In Chilliwack, approximately 55 employees are directly affected by the lockout.

The federal government warned, on Wednesday afternoon, that back-to-work legislation could be in place as early as Friday if a settlement between Canada Post and the union is not reached. Legislation would mean an arbitrary settlement would be mandated, which Hansen said should be cause for concern for all unions.

“We wouldn’t have a voice at the table anymore, the union’s bargaining rights would be taken away,” said Hansen. “It sets a precedent for all unions negotiating new contracts.”

kbartel@theprogress.com

~ with files from Jeff Nagel