On Monday, December 17, a group of postal workers and community allies confronted federal Member of Parliament for Fredericton, Matt DeCourcey, with questions about legislation which has taken away their right to strike.
The group of about a dozen people walked into DeCourcey’s Queen Street office in Fredericton during an afternoon open-house event.
Ruth Breen of Canadian Union of Postal Workers Local 54 told DeCourcey: “Fredericton workers, your constituents, were out one day; and [because of] one day, you made a decision to support legislation that removes our right to collective bargaining.”
As part of a series of rotating strikes which began on October 22, Fredericton postal workers struck for one day at one plant, on November 7-8. They are now forbidden to strike by back-to-work legislation which took effect on November 27.
DeCourcey said that the legislation “strikes a fair balance”; and that the government is committed to collective bargaining, but “the postal service has to go on.”
Breen and the grievance officer for Local 54, Krista Stevens, deny that there was ever a serious mail backlog. “The rotating strike kept Canada Post running,” said Breen. Stevens, a rural mail carrier, said the parcels she handled were still getting to their destinations on time.
Local 54 President George Nickerson said to Decourcey: “We were wondering if you could explain why you thought that big business was more important than your constituents?” Nickerson says that Canada Post responds mainly to the wishes of large-volume mailers rather than individual customers or its employees.
Breen reminded DeCourcey that “collective bargaining is a constitutional right” and said she was “disappointed” that he had voted to suppress it. The right to collectively bargain and to withdraw one’s labour is protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms section 2d (freedom of association), according to a 2015 ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada.
Nickerson expressed particular concern about the conditions of rural and suburban mail carriers, telling DeCourcey that this year, “250,000 hours are going to be worked for free by the predominantly female group who work in the rural areas.”
Breen added that: “when their day stops at six o’clock, they keep going until everything is done, and if it takes another five hours, they’ll do five unpaid hours.”
Rural carrier Stevens told DeCourcey: “I’m working a lot of hours for free. It’s not fair. I work from seven in the morning ’till eight o’clock at night. I can’t go home to see my children, can’t go to school to see my children.”
Breen raised the issue of the injunction obtained by Canada Post on December 10 to prevent members of the public from demonstrating on behalf of the postal workers.
She said “the entire labour movement is outraged” by the injunction, which was granted by Judge Paulette C. Garnett of the Court of Queen’s Bench in Fredericton and applies to all of New Brunswick. The order restrains and enjoins anyone from, among other things, attempting to interfere, “by any means whatsoever” with contact between Canada Post and its customers or employees; and from “interfering with the trade relations of [Canada Post].”
Breen asked DeCourcey to intercede with Public Services Minister Carla Qualtrough before a deadline for negotiations ran out at midnight on December 17. DeCourcey said he would “reach out” to the Minister but, “I can’t guarantee that I’m going to get a hold of her.”
Norm Knight writes news stories on labour and the environment for the NB Media Co-op.