June 23, 2020 - No. 43

Postal Workers Step Up the Fight for Their Rights

Federal Arbitrator Refuses to Address Necessary Demands

Edmonton protest November 22, 2018, against Bill C-89 legislating postal workers back to work.

Dominion Diamond Mines in Northwest Territories Goes Under
Bankruptcy Protection

Workers Determined to Defend Their Rights - Todd Parsons

Workers Continue to Speak Out About Safety Concerns
The Need to Break the Silence on Lack of Safety on Construction
- Evans Dupuis
Steelworkers Cannot Accept any Loosening of Health and Safety Standards for Mine Workers - André Racicot
Postal Workers' Safety Concerns During Pandemic - Toni MacAfee

Postal Workers Step Up the Fight for Their Rights

Federal Arbitrator Refuses to Address
Necessary Demands

Picket line in Napanee, November 10, 2018.

On June 11, arbitrator Elizabeth McPherson, a former chair of the Canada Industrial Relations Board, who was appointed as part of the implementation of the Postal Services Resumption and Continuation Act, Bill C-89, released her final report. The Act was adopted by Parliament on November 26, 2018, to declare the rotating strikes of postal workers illegal and, under the threat of heavy fines against individual workers and the union, it forced the workers to end their legal strike actions.

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) had been in negotiations with Canada Post for close to one year on behalf of Rural Suburban Mail Carriers (RSMCs), whose contract expired on December 31, 2017, and Urban Operations which include letter carriers, mail service couriers and all the inside workers, whose contract expired on January 31, 2018.

The November 22, 2018 issue of Workers' Forum pointed out that it was Canada Post and the Trudeau government who provoked a crisis by refusing to negotiate with the union and instead resorting to federal legislation to criminalize the workers' struggle for their rights.[1]

Bill C-89 called for 90 days of mediation-arbitration and hearings began on January 16, 2019. This process did not go any better then the negotiations and after continual postponements and delays the final hearing took place on May 6 and the arbitrator issued her decision on June 11.

Instead of the 90 days called for in the legislation, the process took more than 560 days. There is no explanation in the report about the inability of the arbitrator to do her work in accordance with the federal legislation.

It is clear from the report that the arbitrator has failed to address the imposed regime of non-negotiations that was followed by Canada Post and supported by the Liberal government. With the arbitration hearing spread out over 560 days, the main demands of postal workers still have not been properly considered. The arbitrator failed to resolve the important health and safety issues, the two-tier wage system, pay for all hours worked for RSMCs, the overburdening of letter carriers and important staffing issues for inside workers with the increased use of temporary workers and part-time precarious work.

It is of great concern for postal workers that after almost two years without a contract they're forced to work under federal orders but their concerns for health and safety and proper working conditions which they require to perform their work have not been addressed. The arbitrator has issued a report which is in line with the refusal of Canada Post to negotiate with the workers knowing full well that they could count on the Trudeau Liberals to use legislative powers to criminalize any resistance by the workers and eliminate any semblance of negotiations.

What the Arbitrator Had to Say

The term of the contract will be for four years starting in January 2018 so, in effect, there is only 18 months left in this contract.

The wage scales set out in Appendix "A" of the collective agreement shall be increased by the following amounts on the dates indicated:

February 1, 2018 -- 2.0 per cent;

February 1, 2019 -- 2.0 per cent;

February 1, 2020 -- 2.5 per cent;

February 1, 2021 -- 2.9 per cent.

"The economic increase for the RSMC unit is to be applied after implementation of the increases mandated by Arbitrator Flynn's pay equity award and those agreed upon by the parties in the course of that process. The intent is to maintain the pay equity that was achieved through the Flynn arbitration process."

The arbitrator refused to deal with the two-tier wage system that exists. For example, an inside worker hired prior to 2013 has an hourly wage that is seven dollars more than a worker in the same classification hired after February 1, 2013. In order to deal with this issue, the union demanded that the eight years that it takes for these workers to reach the same maximum be reduced. The arbitrator refused the demand and her decision maintains the same arrangement in both groups one and two of the Urban Operations group.

On the issue of health and safety, letter carriers have been suffering serious injuries on their routes due to the two bundle system which was introduced with the sequencing of mail. The arbitrator refused to address the demand of the workers to eliminate this dangerous work method. The problem is recognized in the report but the arbitrator failed to take a stand to prevent further injuries. The comment in the report on this serious problem clearly exposes the nature of the arbitration process which is blind to the needs of the workers. On the issue of the two bundle system the arbitrator said:

"This arbitrator is not an expert in ergonomics and is reluctant to specify a particular sortation and delivery method in the collective agreement. Instead, I am proposing a Memorandum of Agreement that would formalize the current practice that letter carriers will not be disciplined if they chose to integrate their sequenced and manual mail prior to commencing the delivery portion of their route."

Similarly, on the issue of the overburdening of letter carriers the arbitrator refused to take a stand and proposed another study to discuss the letter carrier route volume update process. This means that once again the problems faced by letter carriers with the huge increase in parcel volumes and the need for route restructures will be the subject to further studies with no solution in sight.

The arbitrator had no problem accepting Canada Post's proposal for a "temporary peak workforce" which would have no limitations on the days of the week that these employees can be deployed. Instead of filling vacant positions and maximizing full-time regular positions by combining part-time positions based on the hours worked, the ability of the corporation to use temporary workers will lead to the creation of more precarious work, and staffing issues that exist will remain unresolved.

As far as the RSMCs are concerned, the arbitrator refused to deal with the union's demands that these workers be paid for all hours worked. This would require the restructuring of their routes based on a standard eight-hour day in the same way as letter carriers in the Urban group. The arbitrator refused to change the existing piecework model and proposed another study on how to measure content, work load and appropriate pay methods to compensate RSMCs for all hours worked over 40 hours a week. The arbitrator also denied the union's demand for hourly compensation for weekend parcel delivery by RSMCs. Instead the arbitrator agreed with Canada Post's proposal to provide RSMCs who deliver parcels during the weekends with $2 for each parcel.

Bill C-89 and Arbitration Decision No Assistance to
Postal Workers Working During Pandemic

The mediation-arbitration process imposed by Bill C-89 has failed to resolve the serious problems facing postal workers. The main purpose of the Bill was to stop the workers from fighting for their rights to decent working conditions and a safe working environment. This problem has become much more serious as postal workers have continued to work throughout the pandemic. The important service which they provide sorting and delivering letters and parcels in every community in Canada has put them on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19 at a great risk to their own health.

It is inconceivable that under such dangerous conditions postal workers still have federal legislation hanging over their heads with threats of heavy fines if they undertake any job actions to protect their rights. In spite of this, postal workers across the country have taken actions like closing down plants and refusing to do work if proper safety measures were not observed by Canada Post. It has been due to the role that workers played in affirming their rights that postal services have been maintained to the level needed by Canadians.

It is high time that Bill C-89 is abolished so that Canada Post has no place to hide and has no excuse to turn a deaf ear to the demands of the workers.

For the arbitrator's full report, click here.


1. See Workers' Forum, November 22, 2018.

(Photos: WF, CUPW)

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Dominion Diamond Mines in Northwest Territories Goes
Under Bankruptcy Protection

Workers Determined to Defend Their Rights

Ekati Diamond Mine main camp

Dominion Diamond Mines (DDM) has been under insolvency protection of the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) since April 22. Workers and their union are demanding that the pension obligations DDM has towards them be maintained and that employment obligations provided for in their collective agreement be protected. They are also demanding that the Ekati mine be kept operating.

Dominion Diamond Mines is one of the world's largest producers and suppliers of premium rough diamonds on the global markets. It owns and operates the Ekati Diamond Mine and owns 40 per cent of the Diavik Diamond Mine whose main owner is Rio Tinto, which also operates the mine. The company also owns the Lac de Gras Diamond Project which is part of the kimberlite field that includes the Ekati and Diavik diamond mines. The project is considered to have significant exploration potential for the discovery of new diamondiferous kimberlites. All these sites are located around 300 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife. 

In addition to its mining and exploration operations, Dominion has sales offices in Belgium and India. In 2017, Dominion Diamond Mines was bought by the U.S.-based monopoly the Washington Companies which owns companies in rail transportation, marine transportation, construction and mining, heavy equipment sales, aviation technology, and real estate development.

Workers' Forum is posting below a recent interview with Todd Parsons, the President of the Union of Northern Workers (UNW) which represents over 400 workers at the Ekati Diamond Mine.

Workers' Forum: How big an employer is Dominion Diamond Mines in the Northwest Territories?

Todd Parsons: Dominion Diamond Mines is one of the largest employers, next to the government, in our region. Among other things, it provides employment to the Aboriginal people in a lot of our smaller communities as well as to people in Yellowknife. While 400 bargaining unit members are affected by the filing of the insolvency protection, there are also 700 more who are not in our bargaining unit but work in the mine and are also affected. Closure of the mine would have a devastating impact on the workers and their communities and on the whole economy of the Northwest Territories.

WF: Dominion Diamond Mines actually shut down the Ekati Diamond Mine on March 19, before filing for insolvency protection, didn't they?

TP: Yes. The company shut down the site, reporting that the shutdown was related to concern over COVID-19 and their inability to see the diamonds that are mined at the site.[1] The company said that they were not able to sell their product on the markets because the trading floors in Belgium and across Europe were closed, or mostly closed, because of COVID-19. The mine has actually never reopened. We raised the issue with the employer but they have not provided any solid reopening date.

Meanwhile, the other diamond company, Diavik Diamond Mine, which is owned at 40 per cent by Dominion Diamond Mine and the rest by Rio Tinto, never shut down and says that they are able to sell their diamonds on the global markets. There is a conflict between them on this matter. It is hard to confirm what the real facts are in this regard.

A month after shutting down the Ekati Mine, Dominion Diamond Mines filed and obtained insolvency protection under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA).

Certainly the timing of all this raises questions and concerns.

Our union is closely involved in monitoring the court proceedings. Our legal counsel is seeking protection for workers for both pension obligations and employment obligations that are in our collective agreement. The employer must continue with its pension obligations and continue to provide benefits to the membership that were previously agreed to in our collective agreement. Those are paramount to protect. We are also looking for an outcome that maintains operations at the mine site.

What we are observing through the court process is that another subsidiary of The Washington Companies has made an offer to buy the assets of the Ekati Mine. In their offer they are proposing to maintain the pension and employment obligations and keep the mine site operating.

However, it will be for the court to determine whether or not that offer is accepted. Other bids can be made under the CCAA court proceedings. It is rather unusual, in the context of CCAA proceedings, that The Washington Companies has stated publicly in the Northwest Territories what their offer is. I am not aware of any other bid at this moment in time.

What is certain is that if the mine site closes it would be a devastating situation for the workers and the communities and it would hit the northern economy hard, especially because we are in a COVID-19 situation. We cannot afford to lose this economic engine which is driving our economy. We need the pension and employment obligations to be maintained and we need to keep the Ekati Diamond Mine operating.


1. When Dominion Diamond Mines (DDM) suspended the operations at the Ekati mine in March, the union stated that the DDM management made a unilateral decision and did not work with the union to achieve mutually acceptable solutions to the issues concerning the health and safety of all workers, their families and their communities and the economic uncertainty the suspension was causing to workers. The union also filed a grievance for violation of various aspects of the collective agreement as the company dictated that the collective agreement did not apply to an unprecedented situation such as a global pandemic. In particular, the company violated the negotiated layoff and recall procedures when it decided which crew it would keep to maintain the mine site. Workers were denied their negotiated severance payments should they opt for permanent layoff in light of the indefinite suspension of the operations. DDM also violated the Socio-Economic Agreements and Impact Benefits Agreements the company has with First Nations groups, which establishes a ratio of Indigenous employees it has to keep at the mine.

(Photos: WF, Dominion Mines)

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Workers Continue to Speak Out About Safety Concerns

The Need to Break the Silence on Lack of
Safety on Construction Sites

Workers' Forum: You have raised in the media that there is a serious problem on construction sites regarding information on the danger of the spread of COVID-19 on the sites. Can you tell us more?

Evans Dupuis: The problem is that Public Health, the construction companies and the CNESST (Labour Standards, Pay Equity and Workplace Health and Safety Board) do not want to provide us with the information as to which worker is affected, whether it is one of our members, whether they have been tested, whether they have been declared positive, whether an investigation has been done, whether everyone who has been in contact with them has been investigated, etc. We're not able to get any information. How can we assess whether the safety measures in place were adequate? How can we follow up under these conditions to reassure workers that everything has been done safely, that there will be no spread?

The companies are telling us that this is personal, confidential information and that we must go to Public Health in order to get information. Then Public Health tells us that this is confidential information. It doesn't make sense.

For example, we have a crane operator who was quarantined because he had symptoms. He was tested. As a rule, if you're going to be tested because you have symptoms that might be related to COVID-19, Public Health says you have to quarantine yourself until you get your results. We finally found out about the case because the member called us. He went to Public Health, who told him that his situation is problematic because he has been moving around a lot from one job site to another, that this could be a big case of COVID. He had just taken a test, which later proved negative, took a second test, also negative. His doctor, seeing that the tests were negative, gave him a note to go back to work, saying that his symptoms were not symptoms of COVID-19. This worker will not be paid for his quarantine period. His tests are negative, so he will not be covered by the CNESST compensation system. He will not be eligible for CERB (Canada Emergency Response Benefit) because he has earned too much money. He will not be eligible for EI sickness benefits because his file says "possible COVID."

In addition, because of the pandemic, joint health and safety committees are not functioning. These committees are a place where one could ask questions, ask what investigation was done, whether the safety conditions to prevent COVID-19 were in place, whether the two-metre distance was respected, whether the workers were wearing masks, who the worker had been in contact with.

We are demanding access to information, either from Public Health or CNESST, so that we can follow up on different situations. CNESST says that it is not up to them to inform us, that it is up to Public Health. Public Health should work with CNESST to get the information from CNESST. When there is a workplace accident that is reported, CNESST gives us the information. If the accident involves one of my members, I go to the scene of the accident and argue what the corrective measures are. With COVID it should be the same.

WF: How are the safety conditions on construction sites right now in relation to COVID-19?

ED: There are some sites on which there are no safety measures at all to prevent workers from contracting COVID. On other sites, companies tell workers to wear a mask and visor and then there is no more two metre distancing. In other places, the two-metre distance is respected. The situation could degenerate into an epidemic, in my opinion.

When the construction sites reopened, CNESST pledged to carry out systematic investigations of the situation with COVID-19 on the sites, but this is not what is happening. If CNESST is not there to investigate, and a worker is removed from the work site, there's a debate as to whether the worker is going to be compensated by CNESST, whether they contracted their symptoms at work, whether it's work-related or not. CNESST must work with Public Health. It must be there very actively on the building sites.

What worries me the most is that we might just think about working and ignore cases of COVID-19. If there are a lot of cases some sites are going to close and nobody is going to win. That's not what we want. It looks like they're hiding it from us so we don't put pressure on them. But the health rules are not being followed. The two-metre rule is not respected. The working methods are not good. That's what's hidden with the refusal to provide information.

I hope that both Public Health and CNESST will be more open and that CNESST will participate in the investigations so that we can follow up on COVID cases and take action. It's important.

(Translated from original French by WF. Photos: FTQ-Construction)

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Steelworkers Cannot Accept any Loosening of Health and Safety Standards for Mine Workers

Workers' Forum: What are the most recent developments in your work in defence of the health and safety of mine workers within the context of COVID-19?[1]

André Racicot: Our constant concern is the application of health standards in the field to ensure that workers do not contract and spread COVID-19. In this regard, the union has asked the employer to release another full-time prevention representative, strictly to ensure the application of health standards, especially those related to the pandemic.

To give you an example, we have to ensure that underground equipment is disinfected. I'm referring here to mobile equipment, haul trucks, scoop trams, etc. The people who enter each shift must disinfect the equipment to avoid possible contamination. A home-made recipe was used at the beginning, a solution that included bleach to disinfect the equipment. This was done because Purell was difficult to find on the market because of high demand. However as a disinfectant, a bleach solution is only effective for a day, as it evaporates very quickly. For the employer, it was a convenient solution as it is inexpensive and there's no need to find a supplier to get the product. We went into the field to see how it was done, did research, did our job as prevention representatives. We then asked the employer to stop using this type of disinfectant and provide a real one, and they agreed. Had they refused, we would have filed a complaint with the CNESST (Labour Standards, Pay Equity and Workplace Health and Safety Board).

We must guard against loosening health standards and regulations, especially if we are moving towards a second wave. Maintaining the two-metre distance, washing hands, disinfecting common tools, disinfecting the separators that were put in the personnel transport jeeps, etc. The employer did its job in reopening the mine, however if no action is taken by the union, if norms aren't checked, a loosening of standards sets in. We must ensure that these health standards become a way of life for workers. We have to do a lot of work on the ground with workers to raise their awareness and call them back to order when needed. We must get the opinions of the workers at all times. No one knows the work better than those who do it. We have a duty as a society, and we also have a duty as a union to look after the well-being of our members and to make sure they do not get sick and spread the disease in their homes or in the community.

We are going to be stuck with the pandemic for a long period of time. We are probably going to have a second wave, so we must be prepared to deal with it. There have to be high standards in place, not just in writing, but on the ground.

The employer's priority remains to get as much ore out as possible, and it's the productivity side that's paramount for them. This is especially the case right now with the price of gold being very high and with the Canadian dollar at around 70 cents in relation to the U.S. dollar, as gold trades in U.S. dollars. With the depreciation of the Canadian dollar, employers are seeing their profits rise.

In Abitibi, I'm convinced that we're going to see a series of mines opening, particularly surface mines that are cheaper to operate than an underground mine and that can be profitable with a lower gold grade than for an underground mine. Right here at Westwood, in addition to the underground mine, the company has started operating an open pit not far from here. The potential for them to make more money out of the gold is very strong. There are more and more small mining companies that want to start mining sites and the big companies are looking at this and are going to take them over, which is how it works.

The issue of health and safety then becomes increasingly important. The pressure is going to mount to get the ore out quickly to be able to profit from the situation, and the danger of accidents at work becomes greater. As extraction increases, they're going to resort to the use of contractors to provide them with labour to save on costs, to not have to rent machinery, etc. We want them to give the work to our workers, but if they hire contract workers, we also must defend them, as they are workers just like us. Their conditions are part of the working conditions in the facilities. We don't differentiate between them and us. Their health and safety must also be protected.

For us, this means heightened vigilance, especially in the midst of the pandemic crisis. We must ensure that all workers go home at night with all their limbs and not be infected with COVID-19. To do that, we must educate workers, train them, be on site, make sure that workers understand why these health measures are put in place.


1. See "Quebec Miners Demand Public Health Guidelines Are Respected as Mining Resumes," Interview, André Racicot, President, USW Local 9291, Abitibi, Workers' Forum, April 23, 2020 

(Translated from original French by WF. Photos: FTQ-Construction)

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Postal Workers' Safety Concerns During Pandemic

Workers' Forum is posting below an article by Toni MacAfee, dated March 26, about the fight being waged by postal workers to affirm their rights and ensure their health and safety and that of the public as they continue to provide postal services during the pandemic.

Jeff Callaghan, National Director for the Atlantic Region of CUPW, who submitted the article reports that postal workers' fight today is still very much alive, and has been throughout the pandemic, on issues such as the need for adequate protective equipment, the cleanliness of the workplace, social distancing, and the right to refuse unsafe work.


CUPW Atlantic Region represents members in all four Atlantic Provinces. This includes all Letter Carriers, Mail Service Couriers, inside Postal Clerks and Dispatchers, Retail Clerks, Rural and Suburban Carriers, Technicians, and Mechanics that work at Canada Post. CUPW also represent other workers with other employers; members that provide delivery services for multiple private companies that subcontract from Canada Post; Communication Officers and Transfer Administrators at the Emergency Medical Care that do all transfers, call taking and despatching of ambulances in Nova Scotia; 911 Communications Officers at Medacom in Prince Edward Island; as well, we represent Cleaners with Bee Clean in Moncton, Saint John NB and St. John's Newfoundland postal plants.

As many workers are now at home, our members along with healthcare workers, retail workers, delivery drivers, store clerks, gas attendants and many other workers providing important services continue to go to work through this pandemic.

For workers at Canada Post, the main issues have been around personal protective equipment, proper cleaning in our plants, depots and at the retail offices; and the challenges of social distancing in plants and depots, as well it has been a concern while our folks are out delivering and serving customers at our retail counters.

Our members have fought extremely hard to ensure that we have strong language in our collective agreements to protect our rights and to enforce that our health and safety is protected. Now, more than ever, our members and Locals are making sure those rights are enforced. Since the beginning of this crisis, CUPW members have invoked their right to refuse over the issues mentioned above, as well as other health and safety issues that were not being dealt with in their workplaces in a timely and appropriate manner.

Being a health and safety representative in CUPW right now is a very challenging position but our members and our Locals have been very vocal in demanding that our members' rights and health and safety be protected. Local executive members are working day in and day out making demands to the boss to have the proper tools needed for members to do their jobs safely.

We have seen a real disconnect between what management is saying at the top level and what is actually being implemented on the work floor. It would seem not all management are taking this pandemic as seriously as our membership, which often leaves our members with no choice but to refuse to work in unsafe working conditions. There have been many occasions that individual managers and supervisors have made the wrong call, and our Locals have challenged those issues on the work floors and, when appropriate, have escalated that information to the Region for discussion at the next level.

As postal workers continue to provide services at retail counters, sorting your mail and parcels, delivering your products to you, we would ask that you respect the social distancing protocols while we work. Often times, people will gather as workers are sorting into apartment mail panels and community mailboxes. We would ask that you please wait until we are done our work and respect our space to ensure everyone's safety. At retail counters, we would ask that you follow the guidelines that have been set up in those offices that call for limited customers and social distancing.

As details change every day in every province, our members continue to fight back against the employer to ensure health and safety is respected. We need Canada Post and the government to ensure that workers have the proper tools to do their jobs safely. We cannot have workers already in a high stress situation, worried about if when they arrive at work they will have gloves, hand sanitizers and disinfectant wipes that are highly needed. Canada Post and the Government cannot use costs as an excuse not to protect our members. We need guarantees that our work places and equipment will be properly cleaned, that protections such as plexi-glass dividers are installed and gloves, hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes are readily available every day. Otherwise, our members will have no choice but to refuse unsafe working conditions.

When you see your postal worker, or any worker for that matter, working in and for the public during this crisis, remember to be kind, respectful and do all you can to ensure that their safety is protected. While we fight to ensure our safety, we are also fighting to protect yours.

When all this chaos is over and the dust settles, every single one of us needs to remember which workers were there providing services to meet our needs during this time. We will also need to ensure that governments and employers show these workers the respect they deserve by demanding that they get better rights, wages, benefits and protections.

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