A potentially explosive labour fight fizzled after Canada Post struck a deal with mail carriers who refused to deliver graphic anti-abortion flyers.
However, it still raised a tricky labour question: can employees refuse safe, legal work just because they find it morally objectionable?
A union spokesman said Canada Post won’t force the dissenting workers to deliver the flyers, and will instead leave the distasteful duty to three volunteers.
The dispute erupted earlier this week when six Saskatoon carriers refused to deliver the pamphlets, which feature several graphic, full-colour photos of aborted fetuses. They’re politically motivated ads attacking Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s pro-choice stance.
They first appeared in Saskatoon this past June, and elicited complaints to police. However, as horrifying as they may be, there’s nothing illegal about them. And that means the workers’ stance, however laudable, would likely land them in hot water.
“Generally speaking, employees must comply with lawful work requirements, even those they find morally distasteful,” explains Toronto labour lawyer Danny Kastner.
There’s some wiggle room there, but it’s arguable whether it really applies in this case.
“The main exception to this rule is if the work would subject the employee to discrimination or harassment within the meaning of human rights legislation,” Kastner says. “For example, mail carriers could conceivably refuse delivery of flyers that promoted hatred against a particular group, especially a group they belonged to.”
See: Human rights
However, the flyers only target Trudeau, and the Liberal party. Human rights legislation doesn’t consider political allegiance grounds for discrimination, and the carriers themselves even said they’re not refusing because they’re pro-Liberal or pro-choice, just that the flyers are disgusting
If the conflict had come to a head, Kastner believes a labour arbitrator would be more likely to side with Canada Post, for fear of creating a slippery slope of discretionary delivery.
“Any adjudicator would be justifiably concerned about mail carriers individually deciding what mail they will deliver, and what mail they won't,” he says.
Another happy compromise to emerge from the Saskatoon deal is that carriers don’t have to deliver any flyers that aren’t contained in a sealed envelope. Which brings us to a public service announcement.
The flyers aren’t restricted to Saskatoon; they appeared in at least one Toronto riding last week, and cloaked in the deceptive envelope saying “Important election information enclosed.”
Don’t be fooled. Regardless of your political bent or stance on abortion, you likely don’t want to see them.