Canada forces postal employees back to work

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OTTAWA -- Canada's mail was to start moving again on Nov. 4 after back-to-work legislation ended a 15-day postal strike that cost direct marketers about $530 million in lost business. "This has been devastating," says John Gustavson, president of the Canadian Direct Marketing Association, whose 750 corporate members account for 80% of Canada's $8 billion direct marketing industry.

"It's very, very late to try to recover any of that (lost sales) prior to Christmas," says Mr. Gustavson.

About 45,000 members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers walked off the job Nov. 19, just as direct marketers were leading up to the Christmas season, their busiest and most important.

Industry estimates put the losses at more than $28 million a day for cataloguers and $7 million a day for charities, who both do more than 50% of their yearly business in the weeks before Christmas. Nearly 16,000 people were temporarily laid off from direct marketing-related jobs during the postal strike, says Mr. Gustavson.

Postal union president Darrell Tingley calls the legislation "draconian" and promises workers will make it tough for Canada Post to move the mail smoothly.

"We will engage in a campaign of defiance," says Tingley, who named the Canadian Direct Marketing Association as one of the union's targets.

Canada's postal union and the direct marketing industry group have publicly criticized each other several times this year over changes at Canada Post.

Direct marketers have called for Canada's post office to bring its operating costs in line with those in the private sector, something the union calls meddling in contract negotiations.

Canada's back-to-work legislation is "a great start" to reworking Canada Post, says Mr. Gustavson, something the industry group has been pressing the Canadian government to do for about 18 months.

At issue in the strike have been wages, staffing levels and workplace rules.

Copyright December 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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