Inside Conservative MP Keith Ashfield’s Fredericton constituency office, the temperature rose quickly with body heat and shouts of “Heil Harper!” Tuesday evening.
About 40 people, mostly from the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, gathered outside the office demanding to speak with the MP about the upcoming vote on back-to-work legislation for Canada Post employees.
Office staff eventually called in the Fredericton police, causing the demonstrators to leave the office and resolve to come back today to hear from Ashfield.
“We’re trying to let our MP know, who obviously does not want to hear from us, that we’re displeased with Bill C-6,” said Jody Moss, the president of CUPW Local 054.
“We just want to negotiate a fair contract, that’s all.”
Bill C-6 would end the labour dispute that turned into a strike on June 2. The bill is still under consideration by the government.
It includes wage increases lower than the ones offered to the union by Canada Post at the negotiating table.
CUPW members began a rolling strike that lasted for 12 days before Canada Post locked workers out on June 14.
Nearly 20 members of the group occupied the lobby yesterday starting at 4:10 p.m. while others waited outside.
In the small lobby a placard reading “locked out” was hung from a photo as people occasionally chanted “call him, call him, call him!” to office staff who looked on behind the glass wall separating the lobby from the office.
The group initially presented letters to an executive assistant who then faxed them to Ashfield’s Ottawa office.
When they then demanded to talk to Ashfield on the phone they were told the MP couldn’t be reached because he was attending question period, then that he was in a meeting.
Some CUPW members starting calling Ashfield’s Ottawa office to try to talk to him, but only reached a secretary. After 5 p.m. callers said they were no longer reaching the secretary.
The group occupied the lobby for nearly an hour and a half with the police eventually being called by office staff.
The office was supposed to close at 5 p.m. and the staff told the group that if they didn’t leave soon after, the police would come to close the office.
At 5:30 p.m. Fredericton city police arrived and said they would either leave on their own or be carried out.
“It has been explained to you that he is in a meeting and isn’t able to speak to you right now. So sitting in his office isn’t going to change anything. If you guys want to protest, feel free to do it out on the lawn,” said Cst. Mark Scott.
“You can’t do it inside the building. Let’s not turn this into something it doesn’t have to be.”
One man said “Well you can taser me first. I’ve got a heart condition.”
After a discussion amongst themselves the group decided to leave the building.
“Out of respect for the workers at the office and to let them get back to their families we made the choice to leave today and come back another day to get Minister Ashfield on the phone,” said Ruth Breen, one of the CUPW members at the event.
“Tomorrow we should have no problem getting him on the phone.” she added.
The group was not violent and did not threaten the office staff, offering them pizza and cold drinks at one point.
Since the start of the lockout mail delivery has ceased except for government cheques like monthly social assistance payments, pension cheques, veterans’ cheques and child benefit cheques.
CUPW, representing nearly 50,000 postal workers, have said a modernization program by Canada Post goes too far.
The program involves changes to pensions, elimination of sick leave to be replaced with a short-term disability plan, an 18 per cent wage cut for newly hired employees, and making letter carries carry multiple bundles instead of one on their routes. The carriers walk on average 15 kilometres a day according to CBC.
The union has asked for wage increases of 3.3 per cent in the first year and 2.75 per cent in years two and three.
Canada Post has said it can’t do that as the Crown corporation faces a pension deficit of $3.2 billion and a decline in mail volume.
New Brunswick NDP leader Dominic Cardy was present and spoke and took questions from the group. After the group left Ashfield’s office he once again spoke and the crowd cheered “NDP, NDP!”
Members of the union said they have tried multiple times to reach Ashfield and they expect to hear back from him today.
The federal government said it will go ahead with back-to-work legislation if the union and Canada Post do not reach a deal.
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