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Federal arbitrator orders pay equity for rural postal workers

[Stock Photo]

Rural postal carriers have won pay raises courtesy of an arbitrator’s decision that found discrepancies between what Canada Post paid its urban delivery personnel and those working in other settings.

Government-appointed arbitrator Maureen Flynn last week handed down a decision in favour of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), ordering Canada Post to increase its compensation to all postal carriers working and delivering in rural and suburban areas, the majority of whom are women.

While a win for the public-sector union, which represents some 50,000 workers across the country, the ruling does not resolve the ongoing contract negotiations between CUPW and its employer, Canada Post.

Both parties still have the option to order work-stoppages, either through a lockout in the case of Canada Post, or through strike action in the case of the union. The ruling will impact how both sides decide on a new collective agreement for the country’s postal workers, however.

“The ruling is very important for us,” said Cathy Kennedy, a member of the pay equity committee, which represented the union during the arbitration process.

“We’ve been saying all along that their work is exactly that of a letter-carrier, and they should be compensated the same as a letter-carrier. And that the only reason they’re not is because they’re women.”

The postal workers’ union has argued that Canada Post broke federal labour laws on pay equity, and discriminated against women, by paying its rural and suburban mail carriers (RSMCs) lower wages. RSMCs are classified separately by Canada Post from urban postal workers, who typically earn higher incomes for what the union has argued is essentially the same work.

RSMCs are also primarily women, which Kennedy suggests is because, historically, the lower pay jobs attracted a majority-female workforce.

The arbitration will be binding on both parties, and will impact the ongoing contract negotiations between the two sides. Canada Post also welcomed the decision in a statement issued September 20.

“This is an incredibly important ruling for our rural and suburban carriers. Pay equity is a basic human right and therefore pay disparity on the basis of gender is wholly unacceptable for Canada Post,” said Jessica McDonald, board chair and interim president and CEO of Canada Post, in a media statement provided to the Observer by the national post service.

McDonald promised to implement the arbitrator’s decision, adding that negotiations for a new contract with CUPW were ongoing.

The arbitration was also welcomed by members of Kitchener-Waterloo branch of the CUPW,  Local 560.

“With regards to the pay equity, we obviously here at the local level think that it’s a great decision for the rural and suburban mail carriers. It helps to bring them in line with what the urban carriers are being paid, and they do the exact same work,” said president Steve Hinschberger.

The local represents some 740 postal workers, including approximately 180 RSMCs who would benefit from pay equity decision. Nationally, the number of RSMCs likely to see a pay increase is about 8,000. RSMCs will also receive retroactive pay for their work going back to 2016, when the arbitration process started.

Under the current system, RSMC’s are compensated under a separate contract from urban carriers, with different pay schedules. This in effect decreases their pay, says Hinschberger.

“Because Canada Post doesn’t want to pay out more money. That’s pretty well what it comes down to. They found that it was cheaper for Canada Post to pay the rural and suburban mail carriers that way, which has been that way for quite some time,” he said.

Hinschberger does note, however, that the current Liberal government has signalled a move to improve relations between the Crown corporation and the postal workers’ union.

With the pay equity issues resolved, at least for the time being, still uncertain is the actual contract negotiations, which are still ongoing. Both Canada Post and the CUPW became eligible to order a lockout or strike, respectively, as of September 25. The CUPW leadership even received authorization from its membership to declare a strike, if needed.

As of midweek, however, neither side has given the 72-hour notice required for either a workers’ strike, in the case of the CUPW, or a company-imposed lockout of workers by Canada Post.

“So it’s kind of like a wait and see now, because neither party has issued any notice. So the mail’s not going to stop at this point in time,” said Hinschberger.

“The history between Canada Post and the union has at times been very tumultuous,” he added.

“Actually lately, it hasn’t been the best. And I know that Prime Minister Trudeau has mentioned that he does want to have labour peace with the unions that the government deals with. And with the new interim CEO in charge of Canada Post, we’re hoping that the days of animosity can be put behind us.”

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