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Mike Palecek, National President of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), says Justin Trudeau is abandoning the values he claims to care about
DIMITRI LASCARIS: This is Dimitri Lascaris, reporting for The Real News Network from Montreal, Canada.
In late November, after 37 days of rotating strikes by Canadian postal workers, the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau enacted controversial back to work legislation. The new law forced the Canadian Union of Postal Workers to end the strikes and to return to work. Nonetheless, the union warned it would soon call on its allies and members for a campaign that includes mobilizations, demonstrations and nonviolent civil disobedience. It stated, “All options remain on the table to achieve negotiated collective agreements that address health and safety, inequitable treatment, fair wages and working conditions and the democratic right to free collective bargaining.” In 2016, the union won a legal challenge to Back to Work Legislation. The previous Back to Work law was introduced by the former conservative government of Stephen Harper but was ruled unconstitutional.
The current government insists that this Back to Work law is constitutional because it does not dictate how the bargaining issues should be settled. Rather, the law appoints a mediator arbitrator to be chosen either through the consensus of the parties or in a purportedly independent manner. Now here to discuss these developments with us is Mike Palecek, National President of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. He joins us today from Ottawa, Canada. Mike, thank you very much for coming onto The Real News.
MIKE PALECEK: Good afternoon.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: So I want to start, Mike, with this Back to Work legislation that the Trudeau government, as I said, claims that it’s constitutional because it does not dictate how the bargaining issues should be settled. I must say that as a lawyer, I find that explanation to be dubious because the law, it seems to me, has effectively deprived postal workers of the right to strike, which is their main source of leverage in negotiations with management. And if postal workers cannot strike, then doesn’t the government essentially have the power to dictate ultimately how the bargaining issues will be settled?
MIKE PALECEK: Well, that’s exactly it. And let’s be clear, this Back to Work legislation falls apart at the first test that was laid out in the charter case that granted workers in this country the right to strike. So we’re fairly confident the legislation itself is unconstitutional, and that’s why we’ve taken the approach of launching a campaign of civil disobedience across this country. And what you’ve seen over the last ten days, every single day, post offices have been blockaded by labor activists, by community allies that are holding the picket lines for us. This government thought that they could legislate labor peace. They’ve just been proven wrong.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: And so, what are the central demands of the postal workers. And in your view, did the Trudeau government make a good faith effort to reach a mutually acceptable settlement of those demands before it enacted this law?
MIKE PALECEK: Well, our demands are actually exactly all of the issues that this government cares to claim about. We’re at the table trying to address pay equity, equality for women in 2018. Even with an arbitrator’s order, we can’t get that solved. Yet we have a prime minister that claims to be a feminist. Work-life balance and forced overtime is one of the major issues at the bargaining table for us. Postal workers are working late into the night, long hours, forced overtime that frankly they don’t have a choice. They don’t get to see their families at night. And yet, you have a prime minister that claims to believe in work-life balance. And then, health and safety issues are also at the top of the list for us. Postal workers are now the most injured workers in the federal sector at five times the average injury rate and double the next group. So there’s an injury crisis at Canada Post, but even these basic issues we can’t get them to address.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: And so prior to, just to go back to the issue of good faith negotiations, I mean, prior to the point in time in which they enacted this law, was there meaningful negotiation in your view, was there any kind of progress made or did you get the sense from those negotiations the government wasn’t serious about engaging with your concerns?
MIKE PALECEK: Very little progress was made at the bargaining table. There was some movement in the weeks leading up to that, but once the prime minister essentially signaled that legislation was on its way, of course they had no reason to bargain. But let’s be clear here. The government is not a neutral third party in this. They are responsible for Canada Post, all they had to do is pick up the phone and tell Canada to address these issues. But instead of providing equality for women, of providing health and safety for postal workers and some measure of work-life balance, they would rather violate workers constitutional rights.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: Now, part of the debate has been coming, or a voice in this debate has been coming from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. It actually praised the Back to Work legislation. It stated that the law will help clear what it claimed were hefty backlogs of mail ahead of the busy holiday season and that the postal strike was, in their words, an emergency for many small firms and for Canadian consumers. The Trudeau government, as I’m sure you know, has itself made claims about a large backlog of mail. How do you respond to those claims?
MIKE PALECEK: Well, we have an emergency for postal workers right now. We have an injury crisis at Canada Post and this government has just legislated workers back into those same conditions. And by our estimates, 315 postal workers will suffer disabling injuries between the time that legislation was passed and Christmas Day. So that in itself is an emergency.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: And finally, Mike Palecek, why do you think ordinary Canadians who aren’t directly involved in this battle should be concerned about the demands of the postal workers and about this Back to Work legislation?
MIKE PALECEK: Well, I think people believe in equality for women in this country. They expect that at a Crown corporation, they will live up to the law of pay equity. And I think people want postal workers to go home safe at night. These demands are not pie in the sky. We’re asking for basic quality and health and safety. And frankly, I don’t know how anyone could be against that.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: Well, we’ve been speaking to Mike Palecek, National President of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers about a strike and Back to Work legislation recently enacted by the government of Justin Trudeau. Thank you very much for joining us on The Real News, Mike.
MIKE PALECEK: Thank you.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: And this is Dimitri Lascaris, reporting for The Real News.