Jean-Claude Parrot turns 51 on July 24, but he may not be in a mood to celebrate. On that day he and Canada Post Corp. will be four days into conciliation talks which represent the last chance to avert a September strike by his 23,500-member Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW). Nor was there much reason to celebrate when Parrot turned 50 a year ago. On July 24, 1986, when the two sides began negotiations toward a new collective agreement, Canada Post tabled 52 pages of demands for rollbacks in job security, work rules and grievance procedures, and the union responded by insisting on 68 contract improvements. Neither side has budged since then, and what is traditionally one of the most difficult issues—wages—has not yet been introduced.
But the prospects for a deal appear brighter following the July 5 agreement between the Crown corporation and 20,000 members of the Letter Carriers’ Union of Canada, who staged three weeks of rotating strikes marked by violence and arrests across the country. Canada Post had sought similar rollback concessions from the letter carriers. But the 31-month contract worked out under the supervision of federal mediator William Kelly left the work rules and job security virtually intact while providing for wage increases of three per cent on Aug. 1 and an additional three per cent a year later.
The biggest obstacle in the path of a settlement could well turn out to be CUPW’S insistence that Canada Post honor what the union regards as a commitment in the last contract to job creation. That, said Parrot, was to be achieved by such steps as extending post office hours and selling packaging materials in all postal stations instead of just the 19 so-called “new direction outlets” in shopping centres. Canada Post “looked into it,” said Parrot, but decided not to go ahead because “this government wants to privatize the post office and therefore does not want to give it more work or more services.” But Deborah Saucier-Curtis, a Canada Post spokesman in Ottawa, said that the corporation “always tries to reach a settlement without a strike and hopes that will happen this time as well.” She declined further comment on Parrot’s remarks.
The meetings scheduled to begin on July 20 between the federal conciliation commissioner and the two sides are expected to last from 10 to 15 days. The commissioner will then write a report that will probably be completed sometime in the last two weeks of August. Seven days after its release, the union can legally strike. In the long, hot summer ahead, Kelly may be called upon to mediate once again.
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