After a long struggle between Canada Post and its largest union, an arbitration ruling will mean a pay raise for rural postal workers across the country, including 360 workers in New Brunswick, mostly women. The arbitration decision in early June recognized that pay inequities exist between the Rural and Suburban Mail Carriers (RSMCs), two-thirds of whom are women, and their urban counterparts, mostly men.
The decision will affect more than 8,000 rural postal workers across Canada represented by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) at Canada Post. The Crown corporation posted a before-tax profit of $74 million last year when it called the lower pay for RSMCs a “competitive advantage.”
Amy Anderson, president of the CUPW Acadie Bathurst local and a member of the national CUPW negotiating committee, has been an RSMC for more than 30 years. Anderson says that CUPW has always believed that pay equity was a legal obligation of Canada Post. The union “was determined to negotiate it into our collective agreement, so our members would not have to wait for 20 to 30 years for justice and no longer be treated as a competitive advantage by being a cheaper workforce for the Corporation.” In the last bargaining round for a new collective agreement, the union negotiated a Memorandum of Understanding to fast-track a pay equity study.
The completed study was reviewed by arbitrator Maureen Flynn. In her decision, Flynn confirmed that the work of the rural and urban workers is of equal value and there is a pay gap, and she gave the parties until the end of August to negotiate the terms to resolve the inequity. The main items to be addressed include wages and benefits including disability, life insurance, post-retirement health and dental plans and other benefits. CUPW’s position is that the employees are entitled to the benefits but Canada Post wants cash payments instead.
Anderson has worked with other activists for many years to improve the working conditions and rights of RSMCs, including their battle to unionize and become employees of Canada Post in 2004. “Through the last 14 years, we have seen many improvements, but having our work recognized as being of equal value has always been the ultimate goal. Thanks to CUPW and our Pay Equity committee, we have finally achieved this,” Anderson said. “However, we realize that equity is not equality, and will be working diligently though the current negotiations to achieve full equality with our urban counterparts.”
CUPW has a long history of fighting for women’s rights since 1976 when the first CUPW local women’s committee was formed in Vancouver. In 1981, the year after their national convention held its first meeting on women’s issues, CUPW workers voted to strike for paid maternity leave. The strike galvanized feminists and allies across Canada and raised the bar for women’s rights at work. Today, according to CUPW, half of all collective agreements across Canada include paid maternity leave.
In a statement posted on its website, CUPW underscored its commitment to women’s rights, stating: “For all women working across the country, this result should help establish how a quick and effective pay equity process can be put in place. Many women have waited decades; justice delayed is justice denied.”
Frances Leblanc is the Chair of the New Brunswick Coalition for Pay Equity, which has been following the development of the CUPW case. “We are thrilled about this victory,” she said. Leblanc explained that uncovered and unwanted biases affect the value of female-dominated work, making it essential that pro-active pay equity legislation exists both at the federal and the provincial level. “Pro-active legislation means that all employers would have the obligation to evaluate female-dominated jobs and compare them with male-dominated ones in order to ensure equal pay for work of equal value.”
Currently, pay equity at the federal level is legislated through the Canadian Human Rights Act, which requires someone or a group to make a complaint before an investigation is launched. In contrast, as directed by their members, CUPW pro-actively negotiated pay equity at the bargaining table. At the same time, the federal government has promised to introduce pro-active pay equity legislation by the end of 2018. This will require all federally-regulated employers to compare the value and wages of female-dominated jobs and male-dominated jobs in their own workplace.
Federally regulated employers are mostly in the sectors of telecommunications, banks, interprovincial transportation, federal government and federal Crown Corporations. All other employers fall under provincial jurisdiction. In New Brunswick, the 2009 Pay Equity Act covers only public sector workers employed by the provincial government, the school and hospital systems and provincial Crown Corporations.
The NB Coalition for Pay Equity is asking for the Act to be extended to the private sector. “This is an exciting time,” said Leblanc. “Provincially, in advance of the fall election, we are looking for support from all political parties to implement pay equity legislation for the private sector before 2020.”
Susan O’Donnell is a member of the editorial board of the NB Media Co-op.