© The Canadian Press / Trevor HaganA Canadian Union of Postal Workers member pickets in front of the main post office on Graham Avenue in Winnipeg, Manitoba on Friday June 3, 2011. Winnipeg's postal workers will continue to walk the picket lines as their union representatives meet with senior Canada Post management officials later Friday.
Canada Post's lockout of 48,000 unionized workers on Wednesday has prompted Labour Minister Lisa Raitt and her officials to reconsider whether to order an end to service disruptions that began nearly two weeks ago.
With Canada Post deciding Tuesday night to lock-out the workers and suspend all mail service in urban centres, Raitt said the situation has fundamentally changed - although she wouldn't say back-to-work legislation was certain.
Raitt has previously called for the two sides to negotiate a settlement, with the help of a federal mediator, but several major issues remain unresolved after months of bargaining.
"Today we now have a lockout so there's a cessation of mail delivery, that's different than rolling strikes, that's different than cutting back on the mail service," she told reporters Wednesday morning.
"It's time to go back and take a look at the effect on the Canadian public, Canadian businesses and indeed on the national economy."
On Tuesday, Raitt tabled intent to order about 3,800 striking workers at Air Canada (TSX:AC.B) back on the job, citing the impact on a fragile economy.
Canada Post's decision to lock out members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers may leave lasting scars.
Postal union president Denis Lemelin said he is against an imposed solution and called for a one-on-one meeting with Canada Post chief executive Deepak Chopra as a way to break the impasse.
At the minimum, Lemelin called on Chopra to commit to allow postal workers to deliver social assistance and other cheques on Monday.
Lemelin called Canada Post's lockout provocative and "irresponsible," saying the union chose rotating strikes to ensure minimum disruption to the public.
"Today, all postal workers were ready - the letter carriers as well - to distribute the mail everywhere in the country," Lemelin said in a morning news conference.
"We were truly fulfilling our commitment to see to it that the public receives their mail."
He said he would favour the minister ordering Canada Post to end the lock-out.
Lemelin also proposed that Chopra reinstate the union's expired contract so that employees can return to work while negotiations continue.
"If Canada Post wants to have a collective agreement they have to give a new mandate to their negotiators, a real mandate to negotiate," Lemelin said.
CUPW had targeted postal plants in Toronto on Tuesday for the first time since it began rotating strikes nearly two weeks ago. It also had a strike in Montreal for the second time since the walkouts began in Winnipeg on June 3.
Canada Post said late Tuesday that it would suspend all operations in urban centres across the country, saying the strikes have cost it about $100 million.
The postal service had already announced deliveries of letters and most parcels would be cut back to Monday, Wednesday and Friday due to a drop in volume since the strikes began.
Ottawa had initially ruled out back-to-work legislation as recently as Tuesday afternoon, but the nationwide lockout could change that.
The federal government legislated striking postal workers back to work in 1997 - the last time the union went on strike - after they were off the job two weeks.
Although the labour dispute does not include rural postal workers, who fall under a different contract, even the post office has acknowledged that a prolonged lockout could mean they would eventually have no more mail to deliver.