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August 16, 2016

There’s a better way: arbitration could resolve negotiations with CUPW

August 16, 2016

Mark MacDonell,
General Manager, Labour Relations
Canada Post

An arbitrator has just resolved negotiations between Canada Post and the Canadian Postmasters and Assistants Association. The group represents more than 5,000 employees in rural post offices across Canada.

Arbitrator Michel G. Picher’s decision on Monday accepted Canada Post’s proposal. It will be the basis for the new collective agreement.

A couple of things about this arbitration process make it attractive:

  1. It was relatively quick and efficient. Canada Post referred the matter to an arbitrator on March 16, 2016. By July 5, 2016, the arbitrator had both parties’ final proposals and supporting evidence and the hearings had wrapped up. A month later, he issued his ruling. It resolved all outstanding issues.
  2. It compelled both parties to be realistic. They had a strong incentive to come up with reasonable, evidence-based, affordable final proposals. That’s because the arbitrator had to choose one proposal in its entirety. In final offer selection arbitration, he couldn’t blend elements from both proposals. To be chosen, a proposal had to be the right one for employees and it had to be the right one for Canada Post’s financial challenges, including its pension challenge. The process brought the parties’ positions closer.  

Sadly, two negotiations between Canada Post and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers are dragging on and the parties are far apart. The possibility of a work disruption is very hard on customers and our employees. The uncertainty is having a negative impact on our volumes and revenue.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Arbitration could resolve the current impasse with CUPW relatively quickly – and it would incent both parties to be realistic.

I prefer final offer selection. This form of binding arbitration compels both parties to be reasonable and realistic and to prove what they say. In my career, I’ve worked for management and, in another industry, for the union – and I’ve always liked final offer selection. But in the current context of these CUPW negotiations, to end the uncertainty for our customers and our employees, we could live with the more traditional binding arbitration.

Here’s what would happen if the parties went to that kind of binding arbitration. The arbitrator would choose some of CUPW’s proposals and some of Canada Post’s. CUPW would win on some of their demands and lose on others; still others might be adjusted by the arbitrator. Likewise, some of Canada Post’s proposals would make it in the new collective agreement intact. Others wouldn’t make it, or if they did, the arbitrator might have revised them. The arbitrator could also fashion new clauses or new language in existing clauses. He could create compromises. The outcome would be a new collective agreement.

That’s give-and-take, and that’s the nature of any negotiations. Arbitration strikes an acceptable balance between the employer and the union. We’re good with that to resolve this current impasse.

The federal Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour asked both parties to agree to binding arbitration on July 6. We said yes. CUPW said no. On July 8, we asked CUPW directly to go to binding arbitration if 30 days of intensive negotiations still left us at an impasse. CUPW again said no that same day.

We are still willing to go to arbitration. The minute CUPW agrees to binding arbitration, our customers would breathe a sigh of relief. They’d have a guarantee of uninterrupted postal service. Retailers and advertisers could enter the crucial back-to-school and holiday shopping seasons with no lockout or strike at Canada Post. Our hard-working and dedicated employees represented by CUPW-Urban and CUPW-RSMC would breathe easier, too. They’d know their incomes won’t dry up because of a work disruption.

Our economy is still fragile. We need a shared sense of responsibility to solve complex issues, not a strike that would inflict pain on Canadians and Canadian businesses. Why choose pain and prolonged conflict when there’s a better way? Arbitration would bring about a quicker resolution. It’d be a more realistic and reasonable process. It’d be better for customers and employees than the current impasse. It would make a lot of sense in the situation we’re in now.