Removing pension issues a solution to Canada Post stalemate: prof

While Canada Post Corp. has withdrawn the lockout threat it issued in early July to the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, the two sides remain at odds with few signs of progress.

“Canada Post and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers remain at the negotiating table, but progress is discouraging,” said Canada Post in an Aug. 9 press release last week. “We remain committed to our goal of reaching agreements that are fair to our employees. At the same time, the agreements must allow us to continue to provide affordable pricing and service to our customers and all Canadians.”

Read: Canada Post drops lockout threat as talks continue with its workers

Amid the stalemate, 1,000 postal workers gathered in Montreal last weekend in front of the prime minister’s constituency office to urge the federal government to push Canada Post to negotiate in good faith with the union. The company withdrew its lockout threat after the federal labour minister urged the two sides to try to reach a resolution. But with the company digging in its heels on its efforts to implement a defined contribution pension plan for new hires and the union doing likewise in resisting such a change, what are the prospects for actually reaching a deal as the company grapples with the continuing uncertainty?

With pensions one of the key areas at issue in the bargaining, Maurice Mazerolle, an associate professor of organizational behaviour and human resource management at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University, says it’s not surprising the parties are making little progress. “The issues aren’t necessarily resolvable through bargaining, quite frankly. . . . The whole idea of income continuation is a big one. It’s not something you can negotiate, in my opinion,” he says.

Read: Canada Post labour dispute: A look at the company’s existing DC plan for some workers

Instead Mazerolle’s advice for the two sides is to put aside the pension issue and move ahead with other areas of the collective agreement. In the meantime, he suggests they strike a task force to examine the best way to address the pension concerns and set a date and agree to take action once the committee has reported back. “Hire an independent expert on pensions. There is no quick solution to these issues. This isn’t anything new,” he says, noting the move to defined contribution pension plans “is a trend that has been going on in almost every sector of the economy.”

And when it comes to managing labour relations more generally, Mazerolle says there needs to be a constant conversation between a company and its union throughout the life of the contract, rather than just during negotiation periods. “I would never stop meeting about labour relations issues throughout the contract,” he says. “It’s hard to resolve. There are certain issues that really need to be dealt with separately. Remove [pensions] from collective bargaining.”

Canada Post and the postal union have been in negotiations since late 2015. While there’s no threat of a lockout or strike action at the moment, there are plans for more rallies as the union accuses the company of making cutbacks even as it thrives. “Canada post needs to back off their agenda of cuts at a time when they’re doing so well,” said Mike Palesek, national president of the postal union, in an interview with Global News on Aug. 6.

Read: Canada Post sticks to DC stance in issuing lockout notice to union

“They made a $44 million profit in the first quarter of this year. So they’re on track to do far better than their $100 million profit last year.”