Canadain Postal Union Promises Fight Against Imposed Strike Settlement, targets CDMA for Attack

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TORONTO - US direct marketers doing business in Canada should be ready for continued postal disruption despite the government's settlement of the postal strike through back to work legislation in December.

The postal workers union is furious about the imposed settlement that provides for roughly 6 percent wage hikes over three years instead of the 11 percent over 18 months it wanted, and about arbitrating other outstanding issues.

"The way the back to work law is structured anything you do brings you in violation of the law," Darrel Tingely, National President of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, said.

"But we will do things to show them that we are serious about protecting our rights and not giving up without a fight. There will be campaigns at work and demonstrations. We will be very visible across the country in our protest.

"We will follow the rules and there will be no streamlining or shortcuts that benefit the corporations." And Tingely made no bones about his targets: John Gustavson, the CEO of the Canadian Direct Marketing Association (CDMA), and some of its members.

"They are one of our targets as an organization and we intend to target one of their members, be it Eaton, a bank or an insurance company. We'll target somebody and make them visible. Some of our tactics may cause them to have some loss of their profitability.

"Government is a pawn of big business and somebody has to pay for it. In this case the CDMA and their membership will have to bear some of the brunt of our postal workers' frustrations. They will know we are out there."

Tingely said he had singled out Gustavson as a target because "he's been very vocal and taken great pleasure in what has come down on postal workers."

But Tingley's incendiary rhetoric, Canadian DMers feel, reflects his union's defeat in the negotiations, the strike, the imposed settlement and the likelihood of thin pickings in the arbitration process.

"Arbitration has always been a negative for workers in this country. The arbitrator may cut down money and benefits and we have an uphill battle ahead of us over work rules," Tingley said.

Much of his anger at Gustavson arises from the CDMA's exposure of union featherbedding in testimony two years ago before a federal commission appointed to review Canada Post's mandate and how it should be run and financed.

"We said two things had to happened. Canada Post had to be more customer driven and come up with products customers wanted to buy, and they had to get their cost structure in line with private industry," Gustavson said.

"We pointed out that 70 percent of their cost structure is labor. We didn't argue for wage and benefit rollbacks but pointed out how much work practices were out of line with the private sector."

These included pay for wash-up time for jobs that don't require wash-up, paid time and transportation for lunch "no matter where you happen to be in a city," and a ban on moving the workforce around in the same plant.

"We calculated that Canada Post could save C$350 million by aligning work rules with the private sector." The testimony, and the fact that the government commission and a follow-up study agreed with the CDMA made the group a prime union target, Gustavson said.

He also claimed that the union had spurned a far better deal last summer that included job security for employed workers in favor of a strike that had addition of another 2,000 workers as one goal. "They lost big, real big."

Canada Post was also a loser. Spokesman John Caines said the company was losing C$10 million a day going into the strike as mailers held off mailing, and C$17 million a day during the strike.

Canada Post was inundated with mail after the strike ended. "We had three consecutive days delivering over 70 million pieces of mail." The heavy Christmas mail volume helped but nobody knows yet if it made up strike looses.

But CP lost more than money, Caines conceded. "A lot of our competitors signed customers to long-term contracts during the strike. Our sales force is out there doing what it can to generate business. But if you're up against long term contracts that business is hard to get back."

One selling point is the three years agreement the government imposed. Canada Post salesmen are telling customers they are safe from future disruptions, but that claim is open to challenge.

"Mailers think the strike and its aftermath are over but they aren't because there is more to come," Tony Gilroy, the general manager of Direct Media Canada, said. "We don't have a settlement.

"The problem hasn't ended. We just got through the Christmas rush. Management and the union still don't agree on how the postal business should be run."

Under the circumstances, direct marketers are continuing to look for other options than Canada Post. Gustavson thinks an existing postal retail and franchise network is sure to benefit from the uncertainty.

"You can go to your local store which has a CP franchise but is a privately owned and run like a private business. The store just has postal products and the unions can't touch them."

Despite threats of union confrontation Gustavson is optimistic about the outcome. "Long run, this is going to help Canadian direct marketers. I see the emergence of a better and more efficient Canadian postal system."

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