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Canada Post's rolling work stoppages taking toll on business, charities

Worries are mounting over the potentially disruptive impact of rotating work stoppages by Canada Post workers - the latest one in Montreal - if the labour dispute with management continues much longer.

"We haven't had any members call in a panic because of the rolling nature of the strike," said Dan Kelly, senior vice-president for legislative affairs at the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

"There's no question there will be some delays, but if the rolling strikes continue, the system could get gummed up. There could be a cumulative impact after a couple of weeks."

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There is also fear among some businesses - particularly the smaller ones that tend to still rely on the postal system for such things as invoicing and bill payments - that the rolling strikes will escalate into a general strike," Mr. Kelly said in an interview Sunday. That could happen if there is no progress soon in talks between Canada Post management and representatives of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, he said.

Another group that is vulnerable is the charities sector, which uses the postal service to get donations in the form of cheques.

The two sides remain at odds over several issues, including workplace safety related to new mail-processing machines, reduced wages for new employees and a re-jig of how sick days are accumulated.

CUPW workers staged a 24-hour walkout in Winnipeg last week and a 48-hour strike in Hamilton, Ont., scheduled to end late Sunday.

Union officials announced a third strike in the Montreal area slated to begin at 11:30 p.m. Sunday and to last 24 hours.

Canada Post said on its website Sunday that mail delivery in the Hamilton area "will be affected Monday."

Spokesman Jon Hamilton said management's negotiating team is reviewing the union's latest offer and "seeking clarity on a number of points."

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He said the union must "propose realistic solutions" to address dramatically declining mail volumes as well as growing competition from the Internet, social media and private-sector players.

Mr. Hamilton said the strike measures are "completely unnecessary" given the fact that negotiations continue.

Canada Post says proposed cuts to wages and other measures are necessary if the corporation is to cope with the reduced mail volume as well as a $3-billion pension shortfall.

Sylvain Lapointe, a Montreal-based member of CUPW's negotiating committee, said talks continued over the weekend but that it's too early to say if progress is being made.

"We're not there yet," he said about the possibility of ratcheting up the pressure on management with more than one strike at a time or of mobilizing for a general walkout.

The union disputes Canada Post's assertion that the volume of mail has declined by 17 per cent over the past 5 years. The actual drop is 7.2 per cent, between 2006 and 2009, according to CUPW.

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The last strike by Canada Post employees was in 1997. It was ended with back-to-work legislation.

Mr. Kelly said there is the danger of a backlash on the part of some users of the service.

"Even if there is no major disruption, just the threat of one is enough to cause more and more companies to look at private alternatives and some may never come back."

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About the Author
Quebec Business Correspondent

Bertrand has been covering Quebec business and finance since 2000. Before joining The Globe and Mail in 2000, he was the Toronto-based national business correspondent for Southam News. He has a B.A. from McGill University and a Bachelor of Applied Arts from Ryerson. More

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