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“I do not see a resolution between management [and the union] in any meaningful sense,” said Ian Lee, an assistant professor at Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business, who published a study on Canada Post.
“There’s a difference of vision of what Canada Post is and what it can be in a way that you don’t always see in labour negotiations,” said Christo Aivalis, a Queen’s University professor of Canadian political and labour history. “And I think that’s one of the reasons this is so tense.”
The pension plan is the biggest point of contention in this contract dispute. Management wants to change the plan for new hires from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan. Defined benefit means the company would take 100 per cent of the risk in dealing with pension contributions. For defined contribution, the employees would shoulder the risk.
Mount Allison University president Robert Campbell, who has studied post offices around the world, said when it comes to bargaining, it’s important to avoid the “is there a God” issues like these, where there doesn’t seem to be a middle ground.
Campbell expressed pessimism that the gap can be bridged. CUPW is led by a strong new president, Mike Palecek, who has staked his claim and reputation on these issues. Meanwhile, Canada Post CEO Deepak Chopra, whose term has been renewed, has a strong sense of the future business model and has insisted this is the time to deal with these issues.
He said one approach would be to take pensions out of the bargaining. He suggested the sides set up a separate pension board with representatives from management and the union, but also with pension experts to advise and another group to do the investing. Or, he said, the pension could be a hybrid of defined benefit and defined contribution.
However, it’s not just worker benefits that are at issue. It’s also the direction of the Crown corporation. For example, the union opposes the company’s plan to scale back home delivery and has pushed for new ventures like postal banking.
“If Canada Post leadership was to come out and say, ‘You know, we support postal banking’ or, ‘We’re seriously thinking of implementing it,’ that could be something that could spark co-operation between the two sides,” Aivalis said.
“[There’s a] real feeling that the current leadership of Canada Post is antagonistic, at a kind of fundamental level, to the workers,” Aivalis said.
From the other side, however, is the view of a union membership that fails to acknowledge the realities of an ever-changing postal world where the volume of letter mail declines annually, said Lee.
“It’s almost like an alcoholic, you have to admit you have a problem before you get help,” he said.
He suggests that after a deal is reached, both sides get involved in a Relationship by Objectives program, where the key decision makers are sent off to a retreat with trained facilitators. The sides would be separated and told to come up with ideas on how to improve the relationship, and then brought together to figure out how workable those ideas are.
By the end of the retreat a list of all the items for action would be drawn up. Individuals responsible for those actions would be identified, as would the resources and timelines needed, he said.
“There’s nothing to lose,” he said.