July 2, 2016
The idea that Canadian postal workers can possibly gain anything from a strike is enough to make you shake your head in disbelief.
Perhaps most telling is the ho-hum reaction from the public. Until recently, many people were unaware that this was even an issue. For most of us a strike would be, at worst, a minor inconvenience.
Long gone are the 1970s, when postal strikes were feared as a major blow to the economy. Back then, a labour disruption was akin to holding the country hostage.
Still, intractable disputes seem to be a habit at Canada Post. The latest was in 2011 when rotating strikes and lockouts ended with back-to-work legislation and major concessions by employees. Sympathy from the public was underwhelming.
What once made the post office so important was its monopoly on letter delivery. But as we all know, email, electronic billing and direct deposit have decimated revenue from that sector.
According to a 2013 report from the Conference Board of Canada, the only bright spot is an increase in revenue from delivery of parcels due to the popularity of online shopping. Even so, it sees this as a blip and predicts an annual operating loss of $1 billion by 2020.
Parcel delivery is not like letter delivery — it is highly competitive. If a strike takes Canada Post out of the picture, businesses will simply turn to alternative services. And once they move away, it will be tough to lure them back.
Cutting costs seems to be the only way out. A change in government has delayed plans to phase out door-to-door delivery, but now Canada Post wants to reduce labour costs by switching to a cheaper pension plan.
The situation at Canada Post is by no means unique. Post offices in many countries are struggling with how to make the transition to new technology. Part of that transition should involve helping long-time workers land in a good spot.
In this case, a strike would make things worse. What really needs to happen is for employees and managers at Canada Post to work together to find a solution that transcends self-interest. They’re up against something that’s bigger than both of them.