Documents give behind-the-scenes look at the 2011 Canada Post labour lockout

OTTAWA – It was five years ago that Canada Post and its largest union, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, were last involved in contract negotiations that stalled, leading to a lockout that ended when the Conservative government legislated a return to work.

Thousands of pages of documents obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act give a behind-the-scenes look inside the government as the labour dispute deepened. Here are five things gleaned from all those pages:

1) The federal government calculated the work stoppage in 2011 would cost the economy between $2.4 million and $9.7 million per day, less than during the previous labour disruption of 1997. Why? More people were using email, texting, Internet banking and online services to pay bills, negating the need to use Canada Post. As for online shoppers who received parcels in the mail: “There are alternative carriers such as Purolator, UPS, FedEx and others that Canadians can use, so the impact of a Canada Post strike may not be significant for Internet commerce.”

2) Federal officials kept track of every message that postal workers sent to then labour minister Lisa Raitt, listing them all in a chart that included names, dates, province and city, and the key message the worker wanted to send. One email on June 10 said 129 employees had asked for a vote on final offers, 37 messages came from the public and 42 from businesses asking for government intervention through back-to-work legislation or arbitration, 13 messages backed the union’s position in the talks and one asked for the government to let the workers go on strike.

3) Businesses big and small asked the government to get involved. While the names and companies have been blacked out from the documents, one of the largest corporate users of Canada Post said a work stoppage would “place onerous burdens on corporations” to meet regulatory obligations. Someone representing the Canadian magazine industry wrote that Canada Post delivered 22 million magazines in 2010, and a work stoppage would “have a devastating financial impact on our business, as well as the Canadian magazine industry.” One letter called on the government to label Canada Post an essential service, which would eliminate the ability for the union to strike or management to lock out workers.

4) Federal officials pulled out details of every previous labour dispute at Canada Post — 19 strikes, lockouts and walkouts between 1965 and 2005 — including detailing the three times the federal government had legislated the postal workers back to work: 1987, 1991 and 1997. Officials prepared a detailed timeline of the fastest way for back-to-work legislation to make it through Parliament, which would take four days. A note at the bottom of the document labelled “secret” says that the Privy Council Office, which aids the prime minister and cabinet, was also “developing multiple options in order to fast track legislation thru (sic) the usual process.”

5) The number of Canadians who received government benefits cheques in the mail was slightly higher than it is today. At the time, some 90 per cent of Canada Pension Plan and old age security recipients had signed up for direct deposit. Even though postal workers agreed to keep delivering those cheques during the lockout, government call centre workers were being told to promote direct deposit to any callers. Other contingency plans included added security at Service Canada offices and reduced mobile outreach activities so staff could be available to handle an expected surge in people visiting offices.