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Postal dispute mediator faces challenges as rotating strikes spread

The federally appointed mediator in the Canada Post labour dispute faces several challenges, particularly as the busy holiday season approaches and public pressure mounts, Toronto mediator Bernard Morrow tells Newstalk 1010.

Morrow, principal of the full-service dispute resolution firm Morrow Mediation, was a guest on The Night Side and spoke with host Jeff Sammut about the mediation process and what appointed mediator Morton Mitchnick brings to the table.

"I think any good mediator has a sense of the kind of dynamics that are at play and the challenges they're facing. Mr. Mitchnick has a lot of experience, particularly in the labour field and he's dealt with disputes like this on numerous occasions. He understands the culture and the ongoing challenges that exist in management/union relations,” he tells Newstalk.

He says one of those challenges will be determining what kind of intervention is needed because Canada Post and members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers have already been negotiating for 10 months.

“Clearly, they've reached a point in their discussions where they've become quite polarized and being able to come to a resolution has become critical,” Morrow says. “We're getting close to the Christmas season, and the union knows that, and they're trying to leverage that advantage, realizing that packages need to be delivered.

“As we get closer to the holidays, that's going to become more pressing,” he adds.

Another challenge is of a logistical nature, Morrow says, noting that postal workers may have diverse perspectives and different needs depending on where in the country they are providing their services. 

Morrow says Mitchnick will likely start the mediation process by getting a handle on the nature of the discussions that have taken place up until now

“He will also try to get a feeling for where there might be some common ground because from there you can develop the building blocks for a resolution,” he says. “He’s then going to have to identify what the key issues are, where the parties have been experiencing the most difficulty and try to find a way to determine which issues need to be addressed on a priority basis in order to build momentum for further productive negotiation.”

He explains that a mediator's role is to provide 'conflict resolution' or 'negotiation assistance.'

“You want to be a conflict resolution catalyst and play a facilitative role by helping the parties articulate their interests and assisting in the development of a game plan for resolution that's going to work for all sides in the dispute,” Morrow says, noting that the mediator will have to do a great deal of listening at the outset.

“He's going to spend some time getting up to speed on where they've been, why they've gone down that road, where the common ground is, where the hot buttons are and how to deal with those difficult issues,” he tells Newstalk.

It’s difficult to predict how long this process could take, but Morrow says in a situation like this the longer the job action and mediated talks go on, the more difficult the process could become.

“Public pressure will mount to end these rolling walkouts. People are going to be impacted by delays and delivery of mail and packages,” he says.

If the walkouts continue into the holiday season, the federal government may consider some sort of intervention like legislation that stops the workers from continuing to withhold services, Morrow says, adding that Canada Post is considered an essential service.

“I don't know that we're close to that point right now but as this process unfolds the pressure is going to mount. And that's a good thing for Mr. Mitchnick, quite frankly, because that pressure is going to be felt on both sides,” he tells Newstalk.

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