Canada Post locks out workers
Letter carriers are not able to deliver mail today because their employer, Canada Post Corporation, will not let them. Canada Post has started a nation-wide lock-out after 12 days of rotating strikes at postal facilities across the country. The Harper government could introduced back-to-work legislation as early as Monday, June 20, which would remove the right of postal workers to strike and force them back to work.
Some letter carriers in Fredericton were able to pick up their mail yesterday, June 14th, before Canada Post stopped them during their planned Tuesday lock-out. Later that night, Canada Post announced the lock-out would be extended indefinitely. The Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) is drawing attention to the fact that Canada Post is breaking the law by refusing to deliver mail.
“Some of us had our mail ready for the street but Canada Post would not let us get the mail out of the building. We quickly re-strategized. We had amazing shop floor organizing! Just as we came in en masse, we left en masse with empty mail bags. We set up an info picket at the Waggoners’ Lane distribution centre to inform the public that the mail was not leaving the building. Another group went to Fredericton’s downtown with flyers to talk to customers and let them know there is mail at the post office and we want to deliver it but Canada Post won’t let us. Public support has been fantastic,” says Ruth Breen, spokesperson for Fredericton and Oromocto’s CUPW Strike Committee.
Postal workers have been in a legal strike position since May 24th when members of CUPW handed Canada Post their strongest strike mandate in history. The vote, which had the largest turn out in the union’s history, resulted in 94.5% voting in favour of strike action. Workers voted to strike against Canada Post’s proposals to pay new workers 30 per cent less and give them reduced benefits, an inferior pension and weaker job security. Postal workers also voted against an increase in the amount of temporary employees and a reduction in the the number of full-time employees.
Mike Palecek, recording secretary of the Vancouver local of CUPW points out in Fightback on May 25th that, “The two-tiered system is an old trick used by employers to divide and conquer the workforce. In grocery stores across Canada, two-tiered wage plans, brought in throughout the 1990s, led to the steady erosion of wages and benefits for all workers. Today, the grocery stores are full of people making poverty level wages. The bosses at Canada Post have the same plan in mind.”
Postal workers say the concessions being proposed by Canada Post are unacceptable. They point out that the Crown corporation has been profitable for the last 16 years, garnering a net profit of $281 million in 2009, its last reported year.
Also rejected by postal workers were cuts to their extended health care plan, replacement of their sick leave plan with an inferior short-term disability plan and the adoption of an unsafe delivery procedure involving longer routes and the transport of double bundles.
“The corporation plans to scrap the 15 paid sick days we currently receive per year, and replace them with a Short Term Disability plan. The STD plan will cut postal workers sick-time in half, and leave sick leave to the discretion of Manulife–a third party that has already been contracted to harass sick and injured workers at Canada Post,” says Palecek.
Palecek points out Canada Post has one of the highest injury rates of any workforce in Canada with over 9,000 CUPW members reporting injuries last year. “People are often surprised to learn that a letter carrier has one of the most dangerous jobs in Canada. Letter carriers climb stairs, cross streets, and walk several kilometres a day. Slips, trips, and falls make up a huge portion of our injuries. Repetitive strain injuries are common for people working in the plants. With over 20,000 letter carriers out in the community every day, and tens of thousands of other workers doing repetitive work inside, it is no surprise that these injury rates are so high. This is a union that needs its sick time,” stresses Palecek.
Canada Post has purchased 2 billion dollars worth of machinery to “modernize” the postal system. “We have major health and safety concerns surrounding the new work methods that are being proposed. The Modern Post Project has been described as a ‘catastrophic machine of slavery’ by those who are experiencing it. The injury rates have gone through the roof in areas where it has been rolled out. Long hours and dangerous working conditions are the new standard,” says Palecek.
Robin Vose, President of the Faculty Association for the University of St. Thomas (FAUST), in a letter to Denis Lemelin, President of CUPW, states, “we wish to express our solidarity with your struggle to preserve the rights of your members, who are the bone and sinew of the public postal service… We were shocked to learn that Canada Post is proposing to cut 7000 jobs in order to reduce their payroll. This means that the remaining workers will be expected to do more with less, which has implications for their health and safety, as well as the quality of service. We are also concerned that Canada Post is demanding lower rates for current temporary employees and fewer benefits for new hires. This is deplorable, for it targets the corporation’s most vulnerable workers. We support CUPW’s vision for the future of the public postal service: not a corporation preoccupied with profit and a skeleton workforce, but that of a ‘A Modern Post Powered by People’.”
Vose, a history professor at St. Thomas University, continues, “Your union was instrumental in obtaining collective bargaining rights for public sector workers in Canada in the 1960s and 70s. As a result of your leadership, many faculty members across the country now experience the benefits and protection of union membership.”
The newly formed Student Worker Action Coalition, a coalition of workers and students in Fredericton, are supporting CUPW in their struggle against Canada Post and the larger austerity measures being forced upon workers and students. Coalition members joined the picket line on Sunday, June 12th at 11:00pm when postal workers in Fredericton began their 24 hour strike. The coalition hopes to engage in direct and symbolic solidarity, providing both morale and material aid during the strike and combatting the anti-worker, anti-union misinformation being promulgated by mainstream media outlets and Canada Post.
In a Call to Action to Support Striking Postal Workers, the Student Worker Action Coalition states, “The postal workers’ fight is not only about improving their working conditions. It is about everyone: our access to good public services that put people before profits; jobs and workplaces that raise our standard of living rather than those that force us to work harder just to stay afloat; a fair and equitable society. Their struggles are mirrored in other industries, where work is increasingly outsourced (in some cases to heinously underpaid workers abroad), benefits are cut back, pensions are slashed and gambled away, and austerity measures favour the privatization of public services. The postal workers’ demands for fair wages and safe working conditions did not cause the global financial crisis; rather, working people are being punished by the market manipulation of the wealthy elite. The willingness to stand up against austerity and demand the need for strong unions is critical for our entire society as income gaps widen and social services are cut and eliminated. The postal workers are standing up and fighting for themselves, for us, and for the future generations of workers, students, and all who suffer under neoliberal capitalism’s brutal system. We hope to stand with them, and that you’ll join us.”
The public is being encouraged to stand in solidarity on the picket lines, post signs of support or share an information flyer with their friends, neighbours and the public. In the prairies, the Porch Lights for Posties campaign delivered light bulbs to the community and asked people to keep their porch lights on for postal workers who were forced to keep working into the night. In Edmonton, workers at several depots are risking discipline because they refused to work forced-overtime.
“Postal workers are fully aware that the struggle ahead of us has very broad implications. Our struggle will set the tone for the many fights that will inevitably rise against the new Harper majority government. A defeat would prepare the way for a series of attacks against the broader public sector. A victory would send Stephen Harper’s government a powerful message that the labour movement will not be pushed around,” says Palecek.