June 27, 2021 marks 10 years since Stephen Harper’s Federal Conservative Government forced postal workers back to work, stripping us of our right to free and fair collective bargaining and our right to strike.
Anniversaries are most often happy occasions, marked with celebrations and gifts. Typical 10-year anniversary gifts are metals or gemstones. But postal workers will mark the 2011 back-to-work legislation with collective determination and solidarity, and a vow to keep fighting for worker rights.
After weeks of rotating strikes to push Canada Post back to the bargaining table to negotiate an agreement with us, the Corporation locked us out, forbidding us from processing and delivering the mail. This lockout was an unprecedented move, and instead of asking Canada Post end the lockout and start bargaining in good faith, the federal government instead chose to introduce back-to-work legislation. It forced the House of Commons and the Senate to work overtime to get us back to work as quickly as possible, without any regard for our rights. This wasn’t just any back-to-work legislation. Not only did it strip us of our right to strike, it included large and punishing fines if we refused to comply.
The legislation also contained some of the most restrictive, anti-Union provisions ever included in back-to-work legislation in Canada. The imposed wage increases were significantly lower than the employer’s final offer and the arbitrator’s mandate was heavily skewed in favour of Canada Post. The cards were stacked against us and. With our pensions on the line, CUPW made the difficult decision to sign a deal with Canada Post. Postal workers paid a steep cost in a process that, from the start, was biased against workers.
CUPW challenged this back-to-work legislation at the International Labour Organization. The same legislation was also challenged in the courts, where we proved victorious. In 2016, Ontario Superior Court Justice Stephen Firestone ruled that that Harper’s back-to-work legislation violated the rights to freedom of association and freedom of expression under the Canadian Charter of Right and Freedoms.
This court victory, while welcomed, does not erase the unnecessary violation of our right to bargain freely and fairly, and our right to strike. We accepted a less than ideal agreement to save our financial future. No worker should have to go through this. Ten years later, postal workers continue to fight back against bad bosses and unlawful governments. We stand in solidarity and more determined than ever to negotiate fair contracts.