Labour Strikes, Communication Plans and Canada Post

Yikes, Canada Post is on strike! Predictable perhaps still unnerving to their management, employees, the government, their business customers, their suppliers and the public of course.

Now, the communication process becomes as important as the actual discussions at the negotiating table, as all those stakeholders will start to bring pressure to bear and will be asking with increasing regularity…”what’s going on?” and “when will this end?”.  You can bet that both Canada Post and CUPW have very detailed communication plans that were developed months ago. They will have plans for both a strike and for the eventual settlement.

If you are involved in collective bargaining, do you develop a detailed communication plan for both a settlement or a strike well in advance?  Or do you wait and see what happens and then decide what to communicate and to whom at the last-minute depending on the outcome? If you do, then you’re not alone, but I suggest that you reconsider the next time.  Many companies wait and then assign someone, usually junior, to “put something together” at the last-minute.  If it’s a strike, then there is a ton of stress, and so much to do that the communication
material is likely to be inadequate and not well-thought through.  Or it becomes really expensive, because you have to ask a third-party to do it for you, like a PR firm or a lawyer. In the
stress of the moment, it’s also possible that you might forget to communicate to someone and if that turns out to be an important stakeholder, like a key customer, then there could be longer-term ramifications.

It’s important whether you’re dealing with a small scenario or a large one, to develop a detailed communication plan in advance as part of your overall contingency planning…..when you can think clearly and seek lots of input from the management team.  When I was at Purolator, we always followed this process, without guessing what the likeliest outcome was going to be….the plan covered a range of possible outcomes. These included scenarios such an 1.agreement without a labour disruption, 2.a labour disruption itself, and 3. an agreement following a labour disruption.

Within each of those 3 scenario, a good plan considers key events that may occur within each, and what the type of communication would be – either proactive or reactive and whether internal, external or both.

The plan should identify all key stakeholder groups/audiences as well as the types of communication tactics and methods that will be used. Audiences could include any of the Board of Directors, senior management, all management, customer-facing employees, all employees, the HR team, key customers, all customers, suppliers, shareholders, strategic partners,
the Union, the Media and the list goes on. It just needs to be thought through well in advance.

So for each key event, the relevant audiences should be identified in detail as well as the type of communication to be used. The expected tone of any communication should be discussed and agreed upon in advance so that it doesn’t become an emotional decision in the heat of the moment.  There is no better high in labour relations for management than a settlement and no bigger low than a strike, so emotions are always going to be there.

Finally, an effective plan should also specifically outline the approval process, so that key messages don’t get jumbled and “rogue” communication that is off-strategy doesn’t start happening.

If you’re an HR professional involved in labour relations, I suggest that you watch the communication tactics during the CPC strike on both sides.  And if you have staff reporting to you who are in labour relations, you may want to encourage them to do so as well, especially those new to the game for their professional development. It will be fascinating.

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Stephen Gould has been recognized as an influential HR leader in Canada for over 15 years.  He was most recently the Senior Vice-President, Human Resources at Purolator Courier Ltd where in addition to leading the Human Resources function, he was also responsible for Engineering and Quality, Environment Health & Safety, Corporate Communications, Corporate
Social Responsibility and was the company’s Chief Privacy Officer.  Prior to his role with Purolator Courier, Stephen was the Vice President of Human Resources at American Express.  Steve has also held several senior HR leadership roles within the PepsiCo organization and McDonnell Douglas Canada. Stephen has been a speaker at numerous conferences in Canada on the topics of Being a Top Employer, Employee Engagement, Talent Management and The Healthy Workplace.  He was also featured in Aspatore’s  “Inside the Minds” series, in their book
entitled “Managing the Human Resources Team”.

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