Hot Topics: Canada Post strike could reduce reliance on snail mail

Felice Martinello

Felice Martinello

If the federal government legislates Canada Post employees back to work this week, neither side will win, says Felice Martinello, a professor of Economics who has studied unions and labour disputes.

In any labour dispute, a negotiated settlement is always preferable to arbitration forced by political parties, says Martinello, who is a contributing faculty member to the University’s Centre for Labour Studies.

The Canada Post strike, expected to end with federal legislation next week, could accelerate what is already an eventuality, which is the gradual decline of Canada Post, Martinello says. But he doesn’t predict an end to it.

“It is a declining industry, but Canada Post is not going to disappear by any means.”

Martinello shared some of his thoughts about the strike with The Brock News.

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Why has public opinion been so against Canada Post?

A lot of that is history. They have been characterized as a very militant union that has been willing to impose big hardships on the Canadian economy and the Canadian public in order to match their bargaining demands. It’s not just the union. I would say the corporation isn’t held in very high esteem either. Both have a reputation of being perfectly willing to impose big costs on the Canadian population.

There has also been a change in perception. The trend has been toward a more negative view of public sector workers, especially public sector unions. The economy has been through some very hard times over last three or four years and there’s no doubt public sector workers have more insulation against the vagaries of the market place.

How much of a role does the economy play in public opinion?

The line I’ve been using amongst my own colleagues – because here at Brock, the Brock University Faculty Association is preparing for its own collective bargaining – is that in late 2008, we suddenly woke up one morning and we were a lot less rich than we thought we were just a few days before. That has really happened across the board, and it has had a huge effect on everybody. It’s human nature, when you see a group striking and imposing costs on you because they are trying to do better for themselves, to say “Why aren’t they sucking it up like the rest of us?”

Do you see this strike as doing any permanent damage to Canada Post?

I see it as accelerating some of the things that probably would have happened anyway. It is a declining industry. It’s not going to disappear. It will still be a large corporation doing lots of work. But the strike will accelerate everyone’s transition away from paper-based products to electronic ones. Habit plays a huge role in what we do. Before this, people were happy to do mail-based billing because that’s what they’ve always done. This forces them to change over the interim. Once they change, it will become the default, and some won’t change back.

And believe me, both sides know this. But it cuts back to the fundamental nature of the system. The nature of a work stoppage is to wage economic war and do damage to each other until an offer that previously looked unacceptable starts to look like something you can live with.

Related articles:
Tories willing to delay summer break to get Canada Post back to work | The Globe and Mail
One strike down, one to go | Ottawa Citizen
Back-to-work legislation: Should Ottawa force Canada Post employees back to work? | cbc.ca

Posted on June 17, 2011

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