June 3 2011
The Postal Workers Union began a series of “rotating strikes” today, targeting Winnipeg first. Apparently Hamilton is next.
The reason that the union can engage in these rotating strikes is that the union is in a legal strike position. The workers could walk off the job completely, from coast to coast, if they so chose. But the union has elected not to do that yet. The benefit of a rotating strike to the union and workers is that they send a message and put
some pressure on the employer, buy the workers continue to get all or most of their pay.
Does the employer have to tolerate rotating strikes?
The answer is no. An employer has options too, since it also is in a legal lockout position. This means the employer may decide to lockout the workers altogether, in which case the employees would lose their wages. Or the employer could respond in kind by initiating rotating lockouts–locking out the workers for a few days here and there, at some or all locations. That is how Canada Post responded back in the 1990s when postal workers engaged in a work to rule campaign when they were in a legal strike position. The labour board ruled that the employer was engaging in lawful rotating defensive lockout (CUPW v. Canada Post (1992) 16 Can. L.R.B.R. (2d) 290.
The employer may also unilaterally change the conditions of employment of the bargaining unit employees, since the collective agreement is expired and labour boards and courts have ruled that labour law legislation does not require the union’s consent to changes in contract terms during a strike/lockout period. See the Supreme Court of Canada decision in<ahref=”http://www.canlii.org/en/ca/scc/doc/1989/1989canlii49/1989canlii49.html”> Paccar of Canada. and the more recent OLRB decision in Neenah Paper of Canada.
If you were running Canada Post, how would you respond to the rotating strike?