The rotating work stoppage by postal workers will roll into two new cities on Tuesday, but the changing nature of business communications is keeping the disruption from causing the same kind of damage as strikes in the past.
Victoria and Moncton will face 24-hour strikes Tuesday, after a shutdown hit Montreal on Monday. Earlier walkouts hit Winnipeg and Hamilton. On Monday, Canada Post also rejected the union's latest contract proposal as being too expensive, although it withdrew one of its own proposals to create more part-time jobs.
The rolling walkouts mean fewer problems for businesses, most of which now send the bulk of their documentation by electronic means.
"It's like Strike 2.0," said Michael Mulvey, a marketing professor at the University of Ottawa. "It's a completely different kind of situation than the old-school strikes that we experienced in the 1970s and 1980s, and even in 1997."
With the Post Office no longer holding anything close to a monopoly in the delivery of documents, most businesses and consumers are not nearly as dependent on its services, Prof. Mulvey said.
Those that have fewer choices - such as people who do not have access to the Internet, or who live in rural areas without courier services, and small businesses that still count on the postal service to deliver invoices and payments - will be hit harder than others, he said.
And there are still a few kinds of communications that flow almost exclusively by first-class mail: wedding invitations, greeting cards, and magazines, for example.
The rotating nature of the strike also mitigates its effects. So far, no one city has been without service for more than 48 hours.
Still, said John Gustavson, president of the Canadian Marketing Association, many of his members who count on the Post Office to deliver advertising and flyers will feel the impact. "Canada Post delivers 11 billion pieces of mail every year. That may be in decline … but it is still a major player," he said.
Companies that rely on direct mail don't have as many alternatives, he noted, and 170,000 people in Canada are employed in the direct marketing business.
Other businesses that can use alternative means for communication may end up dropping Canada Post for good, he said. "Every time Canada Post has a work stoppage, people find other ways of taking care of their business. And they often find that it is more convenient and cheaper and they don't come back."
University of Manitoba finance professor John McCallum said the union appears "unsure of the prospects for a good outcome for the labour side in an Internet world."
"Rotating strikes don't hurt anybody really badly. It's a shot across the bow by the union," he said. "In a modern-technology world, both sides might need a bit of a wake-up call. They need to get realistic here and keep this business viable."
Canadian Union of Postal Workers vice-president Lynn Bue said letter carriers are getting vocal support for the rotating strikes from people on their delivery routes, especially from members of other unions who see some of the same issues arising in their own contract negotiations. She said the rotating strikes are designed to have a "minimal impact" while sending a statement to Canada Post. Main sticking points for the union include sick leave benefits, starting wages, and health and safety issues.
Prof. Mulvey said he thinks sympathy for the union is slight, and will disappear if there is a cross-country work stoppage. "I think they're going to have a really hard time getting the masses to sympathize."
The rotating strikes definitely help the postal workers gain some support, he said, because it "gives the air of caring a little bit." But it is also an acknowledgment that the Post Office is no longer an essential service. "Consumers are savvy now and they have substitutes and they know how to live with a strike."
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