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“We are not complaining about the work. We want to see our hard work reflected in our pay”. The words of an 1886 union leader have never been truer in the world of unions in 2018. This was the same sentiment that the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) expressed when they initiated a rotating strike on October 22, 2018. CUPW identified several issues with the collective bargaining agreement that had expired. Most Importantly the pay difference between urban and rural couriers; specifically, the method of pay calculations. Urban couriers were paid on an hourly basis, while rural couriers were paid on how large the route was; this amounted to a pay gap against the rural couriers. An important factor to note is that the majority of rural couriers are women, while urban couriers are mainly men. CUPW also expressed concern over stagnant wages as couriers are faced with an increasing rate of workplace injuries. According to CUPW, twenty-five percent of letter carriers were injured in 2017. An arbitrator was appointed by the federal government to settle the dispute about pay inequity by the end of August; however, the dispute failed to settle by then. The strike sought a nasty propaganda campaign was initiated by both sides accusing each other of disrupting the postal service during the holiday season. Canada Post management leaked images of lots full of postal trucks, stating they were filled with mail but unable to be delivered due to CUPW. After three weeks of a rotating strike, the federal government passed legislation to force postal workers back to work. The government states that the postal service was crucial for economic stability; especially since the holiday season was approaching and consumers had worries about packages being delivered on time.
The situation with Canada Post and the Canadian Union of Postal workers has relevant connections to human resource management through: job design, the union dispute process, and fundamental union rights.
Canada post failed a core part of human resources planning as they did not effectively perform a job analysis. Canada Post did not adequately prepare its workers for the changing demands of the postal worker position. As technology progresses paper mail becomes more obsolete, which forced Canada Post to start delivering more parcels that are heavier; increasing the physical burden. One postal worker called the workplace conditions “unsafe,” while describing details of her foot injury. In addition to the increased physical demand it has also jeopardized the mental health of the postal workers; a worker described the workplace atmosphere as, “It’s the kind of workplace where you’ve just got to suck it up and keep going’. A large component of job design is the compensation that workers receive; in other words the monetary value associated with the physical and mental demands, responsibilities, and working conditions. The postal workers felt that the compensation under the collective bargaining agreement was inequitable with the changing work environment. Had Canada Post completed proper job evaluations to assess the changing conditions, the Post could have intervened before the collective bargaining agreement ran its time. Ongoing job evaluations help firms understand changing demands of a position; allowing the firm to make proper adjustments and remedies to prevent disruption. The failure of Canada Post’s job analysis led to a loss of public and worker trust.
The Canada Post case explores relevant topics within Unionization and union rights. Prior to the collective bargaining agreement expiring for the Canadian Union of Postal, both sides went through several rounds of negotiations; including, seeking guidance from a federally appointed arbitrator. Unionization has allowed groups of workers to form collective bargaining agreements to represent all workers’ rights. CUPW went through all the steps in the dispute process before voting on a strike; the vote saw approximately 94% of urban workers and 96% of rural workers vote in favor of a strike. Though the Canadian Union of Postal Workers is a group representing essential services, defined as, “a service, facility or activity of the Government of Canada that is or will be, at any time, necessary for the safety or security of the public or a segment of the public”; they still have the right to strike under the Charter of Rights and Freedom and through other pieces of legislation. However, the government has enacted limits on the right to strike by stopping labor disputes through back-to-work legislation which forces workers to return to their positions. The goal behind this type of legislation is to prevent stalemates in strikes and to ensure Canadians are not disrupted from using essential services. Labour Minister Patty Hajdu said, “small and medium-sized businesses are relying on Canada Post to have a profitable season and our economy needs Canada Post to be able to function in a smooth way”. Employers, employees, and the government all have the duty to protect external stakeholders; in this case, it is the public. This duty is reinforced through the decision of having a rotating strike instead of a countrywide walk-out; CUPW & Canada Post wanted to minimize damage to the general public who use their essential service.
As aforementioned the federal government passed back-to-work legislation to force the CUPW back to full-time service. The legality of the government’s ability to limit one’s freedom to strike is being protested in the court system. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association called the federal government’s action, “a serious threat to workers’ constitutional rights”. In 2011 the Harper government enacted similar legislation to end the CUPW strike; the legislation was ruled unconstitutional and a violation of workers’ rights. The current government efforts to block the strike once again show flaws within the system. How can the CUPW exercise their right to walk away from hazardous working conditions and to collectively bargain; if the government will block it? In addition, it shows a dangerous precedent for management teams like Canada Post; the Post does not have to negotiate in good conscience if they know the workers will be forced to go back under the same collective bargaining agreement. The government intervention does not bode well for the relationship between Canada Post and CUPW; neither will have trust for each other.
Workers have the right to walk away from hazardous working conditions and to join the picket line to fight against it. However, at what cost to the ordinary citizen who depends on essential services for commerce. Additionally, what is the government’s responsibility in balancing the rights of a worker and the benefit of society? Proper human resources planning could have been preventative and proactive in preventing the drawn-out strike. Consistent job evaluations can help management screen and forecast for changes in physical and mental demands and responsibilities. In 2011 after the CUPW strike ended, the union stated it will not forget the federal government’s actions; they kept their promise in 2018. When a new collective bargaining agreement is reached and expired; will the Canadian Union of Postal Workers continue to keep it? As supply and logistics grow companies like Canada Post will need to continuously evaluate their labor supply and potentially seek alternatives. The 2018 strike saw many businesses offering delivery through contracted third parties, specializing in the last mile of a transported good. These solutions are costly to small businesses but are still better options than having packages sit in distribution centers. In a complicated world it may not be as clear to see both sides of the dispute; especially, when the public is caught in the middle of it.
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