CANADA

Going down to the wire

MARC CLARK June 22 1987
CANADA

Going down to the wire

MARC CLARK June 22 1987

Going down to the wire

At 10 p.m. on June 8 the night shift began filtering into the sprawling red-roofed mailprocessing plant near Calgary International Airport. But there was an unusual beginning to the shift for the 65 postal workers involved, and an unusual end. Security guards hired by Canada Post Corp. checked the bags of about one in seven workers who were carrying bags or lunch pails as they filed into the building—and then again at 7 a.m. on their way out. The searches, corporation officials said, were taking part in a crackdown on mail theft—last year an estimated $1.5 million worth of jewellery, cash and trav-

eller’s cheques disappeared from the mail system. But for postal workers, the inspections only added to rising tensions between Canada Post and its staff. Said Robert McGarry, president of the Letter Carriers’ Union of Canada: “In my 31 years at the post office, this is the worst I’ve ever seen it. The atmosphere is totally destructive.” Indeed, last week Canada Post appeared to be on a collision course with its 62,000 unionized employees—and the result could be the first postal strike in six years. With the federal government ordering Canada Post to erase its $132-million operating deficit by next March, the corporation is demanding contract concessions from all seven of its unions, starting with McGarry’s 20,000 letter carriers. But union officials say that they will not give up job-security guarantees.

At the same time, federal labor conciliator Kenneth Swan tabled a report on the negotiations that was critical of both sides, particularly Canada Post. Some of the corporation’s proposals showed “grave shortcomings,” he said. He called on the post office to abandon its demand that new employees be paid 25 per cent less than current rates. Swan added that the corporation had refused even to table its wage proposals until after conciliation had ended. And he said that if Canada Post carried out plans to hire nonunion workers to deliver the mail during a strike, the result could be “serious violence, totally beyond the control of either of the par-

ties.” As for the letter carriers, Swan said that they were proposing restrictions that would “further rigidify an already inefficient system.”

The day after Swan tabled his report, the two sides sat down for their first face-to-face talks in five weeks. Negotiators set the pattern for the week in their first session, when the two sides “went at it,” in the words of one postal official, until 2 a.m. and then resumed at 10 a.m. the next day. Both sides claimed to be eager for a solution, but at week’s end neither appeared willing to compromise on key issues. And federal officials were clearly preparing for a disruption in service: they mailed out 8.9 million family allowance and pension cheques ahead of schedule.

MARC CLARK in Ottawa with JOHN HOWSE

in Calgary

JOHN HOWSE