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Striking postal workers picket around Graham Avenue building

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About 200 striking workers are circling the Canada Post building on Graham Avenue this morning.

Passing motorists honked at men and women walking westbound around the building, with strikers wearing white placards reading: "CUPW (Canadian Union of Postal Workers) on Strike."

Darren Steinhoff, acting chief steward of the Winnipeg local CUPW and a truck driver for Canada Post, said there were three other strike sites in the city. He said the fact workers had finally hit the picket line was a "relief."

"I think there's a lot of relief this has finally occurred. The tensions have been building between the membership and Canada Post for quite some time," he said.

Steinhoff said he expected there would be 250 strikers at the downtown site later in the day.

He said there are also strike sites in St. Vital at 595 St. Anne's Rd., and at 1199 Nairn Ave. Those sites will have strikers joining in from other facilities. Steinhoff said there is also a picket line at 1870 Wellington Ave.

Workers went on strike just before 11 p.m. Thursday night when 150 people at the new plant at the Winnipeg airport walked off the job. They were the first in the country to go on strike.

"Winnipeg is the first to bear the brunt of modernization with this plant, it's only fitting we go first," CUPW spokesman Bob Tyre said late Thursday.

"This is a historic moment," he said, noting there hasn't been a postal strike in 14 years.

Thursday night, the striking workers paraded back and forth in front of the Wellington Avenue entrance to the plant, whistling and shouting as a warm breeze hit their picket signs.

The upbeat mood outside was a far cry from inside the shiny new plant, Tyre said.

Health and safety issues are a concern, he said. There, workers now have to endure doing the same repetitive task all day — or night. They asked for a better mix of work and a rotation of duties but management wouldn't budge, the union spokesman said.

Today, all 1,500 Winnipeg postal workers will be off the job, striking at various locations.

Whether the strike spreads to other cities will become clearer today. A meeting between the two is scheduled for today, after which the union will decide whether the rest of its 48,000 members will hit the picket lines.

The union has called a media conference for this morning and the two sides are to meet later in the day.

If a general strike is called, regular mail delivery will stop.

However, 9,000 Canada Post employees have volunteered to continue processing welfare and other social-security cheques for those government departments that use the service.

Canada Pension Plan, Old Age Security and Child Benefits cheques will be delivered on one day each month.

Provincial governments are making separate arrangements for delivery of cheques and documents. FedEx, UPS and other major courier deliveries to rural areas also could be affected because, in certain cases, Canada Post carries these parcels the last few kilometres of their journey.

Tyre said the latest offer from Canada Post raises new employees’ starting salaries to $19 from the previously offered $18 an hour. Canada Post’s offer continues to have existing workers’ pay topping out at $26 an hour, Tyre said.

The union says this marks a 22 per cent reduction in starting wages.

The union is hoping the strike will encourage management to return to the bargaining table.

Canada Post has said it needs to address labour costs. It notes the letter-mail business has fallen by more than 17 per cent since 2006 due to digital communications.

Businesses and charities have been preparing for a big financial hit because of the postal strike, while rival courier services have been making plans to accommodate a potential increase in customers.

Dan Kelly of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business says estimates the postal strike will cost small businesses between $200 and $250 daily.

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History

Updated on Thursday, June 2, 2011 at 11:47 PM CDT: Adds details relating to contract offer.

June 3, 2011 at 8:45 AM: Updates with morning picket information.

11:35 AM: video added

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