Postal strike in Cornwall
The rotating strikes at Canada Post arrived in Cornwall on Wednesday.
The Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) has been holding rotating strikes across Canada for a few weeks now, and on Wednesday it was Cornwall’s turn to see mail service halted for 24 hours as employees picketed both in the downtown and in front of the Canada Post building on Boundary road. Mail service will resume in Cornwall at 8 a.m. on Thursday.
CUPW members have been without a contract since January, and the union reps in Cornwall say the main reasons for the impasse in negotiations are health and safety issues caused by awkward - but efficient - methods of carrying the mail and excessive overtime requirements.
“What’s happening at Canada Post is that they have a new method of us delivering the mail called the ‘two-bundle system.’ Instead of having all the letters together, we’re carrying two different bundles with flyers in the other one,” explained Stephane Rioux, president of the CUPW local in Cornwall. “So you’re supposed to try to walk up to somebody ’s house by holding onto their handrail while juggling their mail in your arms.”
The two-bundle system - where carriers hold a bundle of electronically pre-sorted letter mail in their hand with the second bundle of manually sorted items held horizontally on the forearm - is an idea borrowed from the U.S. Postal Service as a way to make every delivery quicker and more efficient.
But it has been criticized by the CUPW for years as putting carriers at increased risk of falling and being injured. According to occupational injury data collected by Labour Canada from federal jurisdiction businesses, the frequency of injuries at Canada Post jumped 50.1 per cent between 2012 when the two-bundle system was being implemented, and 2016.
“It’s a safety hazard,” insisted Rioux. “We should be able to maneuver without having to deal with the two-bundle system.”
The safety risks posed by the two-bundle system problem are being compounded, the union says, by excessive overtime work caused by not having enough full-time carriers to deliver the mail during regular hours.
“That’s how they staff a lot of post offices: instead of hiring more letter carriers, they staff with forced overtime,” said Rioux.
Forced overtime is not really an issue in Cornwall specifically, admits Rioux, but it is in other parts of Canada. That said, he noted that the mail has begun arriving later in the day, which is causing carriers to deliver mail in the dark by the end of their shifts.
Although the union is putting health and safety at the forefront of its messaging about the strike, CUPW is also looking for wage increases for carriers as well. Rioux said postal workers haven’t had a “good, decent wage increase,” in about four or five years and would personally like to see wages go up by 50 cents per hour or more.
“They give us 10 cents raises here or there, but with income taxes, we never see the money come to us. The government just takes it back,” said the local president.
The striking postal workers are quick to argue that none of their demands would cost taxpayers a cent. Canada Post is an independent corporation that makes enough money to meet their demands without taxpayer assistance.
The Canada Post Group of companies posted a $144-million profit in 2017, $88 million of which was made by its parcel delivery subsidiary, Purolator. The union also favours the implementation of postal banking as a new source of revenue.
As for the state of negotiations, from what unionized postal workers in Cornwall have heard things have stalled which, unsurprisingly, they blame on Canada Post. “When they started bargaining, the union asked for a mediator to be there right away to help the process along, but they haven’t been moving,” said Claude Labrecque, vice-president of the Cornwall local. “They brought in a special mediator, and there was still no movement, and that’s when the rotating strikes began.”
If no one budges from their positions soon, the union officials in Cornwall say they would not be surprised if things begin to escalate to a full strike or lockout before too long. Rioux said he wants to avoid that outcome because not only would increase the likelihood of back-to-work legislation but also a complete work stoppage would more substantial impact a lot of people’s lives.
“We don’t want to stop people from receiving their mail or parcels. We’re just delaying it by one day, which doesn’t harm anyone or the company too much,” he said.
Striking postal workers in front of the Canada Post building on Boundary Road on Wednesday November 7, 2018 in Cornwall, Ont.