Workers arriving at the Elmira post office Wednesday morning were turned away, locked out by Canada Post.
The mail sitting in boxes waiting for carriers to deliver will continue to sit there pending a resolution of a dispute over wages, benefits and working conditions between the corporation and member of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW).
The move by Canada Post followed 12 days of rotating strikes across the country by the union representing some 54,000 postal workers.
“We believe that a lockout is the best way to bring a timely resolution to this impasse and force the union to seriously consider proposals that address the declining mail volumes and the $3.2-billion pension deficit,” Canada Post said in a release.
What the corporation wants would create a two-tier system, with new workers getting less than what more senior employees get, said John Wastell, president of CUPW Local 560, which represents postal workers in the area, including Elmira.
“Canada Post wants to beat us down, take away our benefits and pensions we’ve fought for over the years.”
The lockout came as a surprise to Irene Janzen, a union steward in Elmira, who discovered the turn of events when she came to work Wednesday morning.
“We came into work to deliver mail this morning and we couldn’t deliver – they’d locked us out,” she said from employees’ new perch on sidewalk in front of the Arthur Street post office.
There are 22 local staff members affected by the lockout.
“Canada Post will not let us do our job. We’re ready, willing and able to deliver mail, but Canada Post won’t let us. There’s lots of mail to be delivered,” said Wastell.
Both he and Janzen argued concessions today would mean more tomorrow, and a decline in the number of good-paying jobs in the community.
“I think we’re looking at huge changes if they put this through,” said Janzen. “If you don’t stand up now, they’re just going to take more away.”
Canada Post is proposing to start out new employees at $19 an hour, down from $26 today. That would rise to the same $26 an hour maximum as existing employees over seven years. Also on the table are up to six weeks vacation and a fully indexed defined benefit pension by age 60.
Among the changes, Wastell noted, is a plan to have workers carry the mail differently to accommodate new automated sorting equipment. The changes to how carriers do their job is unsafe, he said.
The day after Wednesday’s lockout, the federal government gave notice it may introduce back-to-work legislation to get the mail moving again.