Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Postal workers refuse to accept realities

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It is easy to take a Canada Post strike lightly if you are not heavily dependent on its services, which fewer Canadians are with each passing year.

But charities and small businesses, which are vulnerable to interrupted cash flows, often need that cheque that is in the mail. Thankfully for these customers, disruptions are being kept to a minimum so far because the postal union, which walked out a week ago, has chosen to stage rotating strikes instead of a full-scale nationwide shutdown. That could yet change.

What has not changed, however, is the Canadian Union of Postal Workers' resistance to change. Since the last postal strike in 1997, many Canadians have adapted to new technology -- paying bills online and using email to send correspondence, not to mention money.

Ironically, this latest work disruption will only drive more Luddites into the embrace of the electronic world. As part of its postal-strike contingency plan, the Nova Scotia government, for example, is actively encouraging thousands of its cheque recipients to sign up for direct deposit. Similarly, charities are asking for donations to be made online.

Once more people discover how easy it is to navigate the stampless universe, Canada Post will have lost another chunk of its customer base forever. Its letter mail volume has dropped 17 per cent in the past five years, and this walkout is bound to accelerate the decline.

In short, CUPW has made its demands even less affordable now that it has gone on strike, because, let's face it, it is permanently damaging Canada Post's bottom line. Many customers will never return to their old ways.

A company that is rapidly losing market share needs to improve its productivity and flexibility. It must also get rid of liabilities, such as the practice whereby employees are allowed to bank unused sick days. It cannot arbitrarily sustain entry-level salaries that are almost 21/2 times the minimum wage, or full pension eligibility at age 55.

No worker likes to give up hard-won privileges, but there is such a thing as reality -- that implacable force to which we must all make concessions. CUPW is damaging its credibility by refusing to accept a reasonable rollback. But it must not be allowed to unduly damage the economy. Ottawa should not hesitate to bring down back-to-work legislation if need be.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 10, 2011 A14

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