Saturday, June 11, 2011

Another CUPW Screwup

As soon as the rotating strikes were announced, employees were blindsided by Canada Post's contention that since the collective agreement was no longer in force and so they didn't have to cover benefits. Thus, employees found that drug plans, other health coverage, life insurance, and of course pension payments were no longer in place.

It is, I suspect, the union's belief that since these strikes are rotating, then employees who are still on the job should be entitled to their benefits. I haven't gone looking through the Canada Labour Code with a lawyer's eye for detail, but I have gone to an excellent review site, and find that... well, I don't really find much of anything. As far as I can tell, this particular situation hasn't been addressed.

Here are some aspects of employee status that are put at risk by a strike or lockout because they depend upon the resulting collective agreement. However, some aspects of employment are so fundamental they ought not to be put unduly at risk by a work stoppage. These include pension and insurance rights. Says the appropriate page:

Section 94(3)(d) prohibits an employer from denying to any employee any pension rights or benefits to which the employee would be entitled but for the cessation of work by the employee as the result of a lockout or strike that is not prohibited by Part I of the Code. The Code merely preserves pension and other benefits enjoyed or acquired prior to discontinuing work.

This is appropriate and should continue. Some provinces also protect insurance rights which are frequently provided through employer group plans. Employees with families are dependent on these plans for basic securities like life insurance, medical, dental or disability coverage and so on. It is often difficult, if not impossible, for employees to make alternate arrangements. Employees should be free to continue paying the full cost of premiums through their union, and the employers should be required to allow such benefits to continue.


For the duration of a strike or lockout, employees through their union should be entitled to maintain employer-administered or third party insurance or similar benefit programs without interruption by the insurer or employer. This option should be conditional on the employees or union paying the full premium costs of such benefit plans.

It says nothing about rotating strikes, but it is eminently clear about other situations: CPC employees would still have all of their benefits if CUPW had made prior arrangements for payments to continue to be made, or, if that was too onerous a financial burden, if they had allowed employees to make their own informed decision about whether or not to continue paying for coverage. And then they should have announced their intention to grieve this decision by CPC. To accept that something is going to happen is not the same as admitting that it is correct. Look out for all aspects of your members' rights and health from the front end and continue the fight on all other aspects as it goes along.

CUPW has announced that CPC will reinstate prescription drug coverage, with a $100 deductible and 80% coverage, which, for employees who themselves or have family members with chronic conditions, is better than a kick in the head with a hob nail boot. Unfortunately, the conditions of it don't allow either side to shine especially bright.

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Friday, June 10, 2011

How CUPW Has Dropped the Ball and Will Probably Lose the War

The ongoing strike action by CUPW against Canada Post is about a lot of things, and as I think about it, that is very much the problem right now. I'm not going to link to any, but I'll point out that Google can lead you to many articles and editorials about why Canada Post needs to change, or needs to be privatized, or that the employees (especially letter carriers, since they are the most visible face of the corporation) are lazy and/or overpaid. What almost all of those have in common is the steadfast refusal to discuss he issues as the union sees them, at least beyond the most cursory notice.

Journalists are inherently lazy. They'll work damned hard when pressed, and that push often comes from themselves, especially when faced with a gripping, hot story. But for stories such as this, they often need to be spoon fed. And as near as I can tell, CUPW is doing an absolutely horrific job at this. Here's what I've found on their site, a series of bulletins about negotiations set up in one handy place for the press to come and find it. And I will note that I don't doubt each bulletin is dutifully emailed to reporters as they come out, along with a link back to the site for further reference.

But there's nothing sexy in these bulletins, nothing that is going to catch the reporter's eye and sense of story, much less the editor's. Even more important, there is nothing personal in these bulletins. "United, Disciplined, and Proud?" Well, good for you. But big deal. And throwing around words like "struggle" just reminds those reporters and editors and, even more so, their corporate masters, that the union still holds some pride in its ostensibly distant Marxist roots.

With rotating strikes hopping around the country, CUPW missed a perfect chance to make this personal, local, and national, all at the same time. They should have had several sympathetic writers lined up, people who had some training in how to word things more coherently than your average union leader, ready to dive in - by phone or in person - to every city that was soon to walk out for their assigned 24 hours, in order to interview one or two employees about the grief they've received from management. Whether or not that grief related to the bargaining process and what was being offered or taken away should have been irrelevant. These pieces could have been used to highlight what postal employees have been asking for, what CPC has been taking away, and how all of this has been affecting the common good.

Let me give a couple of small examples, off the top of my head (and therefore with a couple of facts fudged and with names changed to protect the innocent):

In over 20 years of delivering mail to the people of Saskatoon, Ron Raymond has done his very best to ensure that his customers get nothing but the highest level of service. Besides making sure the mail gets there on time, no matter the weather, Ron has twice rescued toddlers who were locked out of their houses, he's reported the death of another customer, an older woman, to the police, and he's befriended children, adults, and pets alike. In that same span of time, Ron has had three knee surgeries, largely due to the fact that his walk is now close to 18km a day, up and down stairs and on hard pavement. His latest surgery had Ron needing time off just a couple of weeks ago, but this time instead of being allowed to properly recover, Ron was forced to go to Employment Insurance and to his bank manager to ask for help in making his mortgage payments, because Canada Post decided to cut off all benefits to its employees, even health benefits for postal employees previously injured on the job who needed medical help to be able to do their jobs properly.

This (and I admit it's short and could be better - this is what time and professionals are for) could be accompanied by a photo, if Ron allowed it, as well as a brief fact from negotiations, something that relates directly to what was mentioned.

Another could talk about a letter carrier who was forced out on overtime 31 days in a row in January and February, about the toll that took on his body, about the staffing at the time (but remember! Not too strident, keep it moderately apolitical and calm).

What both of my above examples could also tie into would be a brief commentary about how CPC's actions are adding a current and a future burden to the public health care system, wearing employees down and throwing them to the side when they're done. Make it about the public, and in more ways than just them deserving a proper and public mail system. Remind them that good jobs mean money back into the economy. Talk about the local issues and the national issues, and make sure you personalize them. Don't be stupid and talk about how people won't notice another small increase in postal rates. And above all, don't tell people how bad off you are compared to them, because that's just a ridiculous thing to say. Get their sympathy, not their anger.

Have these things on the website in a special place, easy to find (easy to remember, like or some such). Also hand them out in hard copy to reporters you've contacted, along with links on the hard copy to the site with all the stories. Follow up with emails that have those links.

And dammit, start using Twitter! Near as I can tell, CUPW has two Twitter feeds, and neither one has a single tweet to show for it. The Vancouver local has tweeted 22 times, Pacific region 44 times. Most of those tweets are about local action, or which city is going out next. None are about CPC intransigence, about ridiculous offers during bargaining (sample: Get this! CPC wants a doctor to assess you ability to crawl after injury on duty!). They have to be fast, real time, with the bare minimum facts and no hyperbole. Say it, and move on. Tweet several times a day, every day. Look for mentions of CPC and CUPW, and follow them. Retweet anything others say that is important and fits for you, and watch as others do the same. Social media can spiral in the right direction if done well.

Facebook too, but less so. It should be used for mobilization, for getting people to spread word when other ways don't work. But Facebook lends itself less to the spreading of the good word beyond the limited number of people who are your Friends. Twitter, on the other hand, can have the signal amplified many times over (retweeting, in case you need to know).

Above all, get yourself on the offensive and don't sit back waiting for the world to come to you. It won't happen.

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