10/27/11

Free collective bargaining: Posties win first step

An important victory for workers (like Ontario hospital workers) who are required by law to resolve contract disputes through interest arbitration rather than strikes or lockouts.

Following the lock-out of postal workers by Canada Post earlier this year, the Harper federal government introduced legislation that unilaterally appointed the arbitrator. However, the arbitration process only works if both employer and union agree on the arbitrator. The Harper government appointed a judge without any experience in arbitration.

This is similar to what the Mike Harris government tried to impose on Ontario hospital workers in the 1990s. OCHU/CUPE had to fight this off for four years, before getting an experienced arbitrator acceptable to both parties.

A federal court judge has granted the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) a stay of proceedings. The arbitration will now stop until the union's challenge to the hand-picked arbitrator is heard in January.

CUPW is also challenging another troubling aspect of the legislation, 'final offer selection,' which requires the arbitrator to pick one side or the other, rather than try to find a compromise. This can force the union leadership to take a position in arbitration that is opposed by its own members, effectively separating the union leadership from the union (i.e. the members).  This is not generally a problem for the much less democratic (and much less numerous) management-side of an employment relationship.

Government legislation to prevent or end strikes and lockouts is becoming more and more common. And more and more often, such legislation is biased in favour of the employers (e.g. the Harper government actually imposed a wage settlement on the posties that was less than Canada Post had offered). There is also increasing talk of changing the interest arbitration process for essential workers to favour employers.

So CUPW's victory is an good step forward.

For more on the CUPW ruling see: Straight Goods - Court upholds CUPW challenge

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