Early on the morning of Dec. 6th more than 40 people, union members and allies, held a picket outside the Canada Post distribution centre on Waggoners Lane in Fredericton that lasted for almost three hours. Similar actions of solidarity are happening in cities across the country. Members of the postal workers’ union, CUPW, were legislated back to work last week and so could not join the picket or disrupt work under penalty of significant fines or jail time.
The NB Media Co-op editorial board is in solidarity with CUPW and its members in New Brunswick and across the country. Research consistently shows that countries with the highest rates of union membership have the highest standards of living. When unions win a fight for their workers, the improved working conditions and wages raise the bar for other workers – unionized and non-unionized. The union of postal workers, CUPW, has a long history of fighting the good fight to improve rights for all Canadian workers.
In 1965, CUPW led an action that eventually resulted in winning the right to collective bargaining for all public sector employees. Other actions in the 1960s and 1970s eventually resulted in average wage increases across the country. In 1981, CUPW led a strike that ended with postal workers becoming the first public service union to have paid maternity leave for its members. Now paid maternity leave is available to all workers through federal EI. Most recently, CUPW won a pay equity case that will mean a significant increase in salary for rural and suburban postal workers, including more than 350 rural postal workers in New Brunswick, mostly women.
The negotiations for a new contract (collective agreement) between CUPW and Canada Post were stalling because the employer would not agree to improved safety measures as well as ending forced overtime and unpaid work. Because the contract had expired and negotiations were stalled, CUPW was in a legal strike position; strikes are a right protected by the Canadian Constitution. On Nov. 23, 2018, the federal government passed “back-to-work” legislation that removed the legal right to strike for CUPW members. The actions by other unions from across New Brunswick is meant as a show of solidarity by all unions and as a boost to those CUPW workers who had their constitutional right to strike taken away from them by our federal government.
CUPW is a strong union, and they need everyone’s support to continue to be a leading union in the struggle to raise the bar for all workers. We encourage everyone to show solidarity with postal workers at this challenging time.
We are reprinting below a commentary we originally published in January 2014 written by Mike Palecek several months before he was elected president of CUPW, a position he continues to hold. He describes the anti-union hostility in the workplace and reminds us all why these struggles are so difficult and why solidarity is vital.
On work and struggle at Canada post: view from a postie
By Mike Palecek
I remember my first day at Canada Post. I stepped into an elevator with an elderly letter carrier who proudly proclaimed that he had the highest seniority in the country. I have no idea if it was true. I told him it was my first day. He laughed and said, “Don’t worry. It’ll be rough at first, but they say the first forty years are the hardest.”
He was still laughing when I stepped out of the elevator and watched him disappear as the doors closed.
Rough? I didn’t think so. After all, I had just finished a two week letter carrier training course where the first words they said to us were, “Welcome to easy street.” I had been working construction before this. Surely this would be easier than hanging vinyl siding while standing on a plank suspended between two ladders three stories up with no harness.
When I told the crew at work that I had landed a job at Canada Post, everyone shook my hand. Congratulations all around. They all believed I had just landed the best paying, easiest job on the planet. I had won the lottery. I remember one carpenter told me about a letter carrier that he knew who delivered the odd side of the streets one day and the even side of the streets the next, so he never had to work more than four hours. Of course, it didn’t take me long to realize that these stories were just urban legends. I delivered to a lot of streets, but not Easy Street.
I had actually taken a pay-cut to come work at Canada Post. I made more working construction. But I knew Canada Post was stable, whereas the construction business goes up and down. I knew they had benefits, and paid vacation, things that don’t exist in the construction industry in BC. It would be nice to work these famous short hours. Turns out those didn’t exist either.
The next two years as a term letter carrier, I worked long hours. Never less than fifty hours a week. I worked eighteen hours straight my first Christmas Eve at Canada Post. I volunteered for pre-shift overtime, which meant I started at four a.m. Then I got sent to a different station to cover one of the worst routes in the city for the day. I didn’t finish until ten o’clock at night. I didn’t mind. The overtime was nice. I could have turned back when it got dark, but I felt it was my duty to get the mail out. I knew I was carrying lots of Christmas presents. I was wearing a Santa Claus hat.
The truth is I was proud of my job. I was proud to be a letter carrier. I was a mail man: an iconic part of Canadian society. I would walk into the elementary schools on my route and I would always see a young child pointing at “the mail man.” I cared about my customers. My job was important. And that was the culture that they tried to instil in us. We had it drilled into our heads in letter carrier training that our number one priority was customer service. But letter carrier training was a fantasy land.
The supervisors were assholes and they treated us like the enemy. Upper management was too busy fighting the class war to worry about anything else. It was surreal. I had organized unions before. I was an activist. I became a shop steward the day I passed my probation period, even without a permanent position. Still, this environment was unlike anything I had ever encountered. They had lost all sense of perspective. It was like getting the mail out was a secondary task – something they had to do so they could get back to the real work: sticking it to those union guys.
Really, “those union guys” were one of the reasons I kept applying at Canada Post. I was proud to be a letter carrier. And I was proud to be a member of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. I knew their history. They shook the Canadian government to its very foundations. Many of the rights workers have today are a result of struggles led by the posties. I knew that without CUPW we probably wouldn’t have maternity leave and the public sector wouldn’t have the right to strike among other things. They had the reputation of being the toughest union in the country and I knew that’s where I belonged.
That was eight years ago. I’m still one of the “new guys” by most people’s standards. Yet so much has changed since then – so much and so little. The focus on customer service has disappeared completely. Management is entirely focused on crushing the union. They don’t care if they destroy themselves in the process – in fact, that is the goal. We’re working for a corporation whose leadership is trying to destroy itself. They want to gut Canada Post and hand over the infrastructure to the private sector. Prime real estate in every city, thousands of delivery vehicles, the largest retail network in the country, the list goes on. Canada Post is a tempting target for these neoliberal vultures intent on looting the public sector.
And they can’t accomplish that without first destroying that iconic public image of the smiling letter carrier going door to door, without destroying the public service we provide.
Two years ago, members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers saw it fit to elect me as a National Union Representative. To me, this is a great honour, of course. But it is also a great challenge. It is once again up to us to defend the public post office. The past struggles of CUPW are legendary in the Canadian labour movement. We must now rise again to the challenge posed by history. It is time for CUPW to lead the fight in turning the tide against the right-wing austerity drive. We will defend our postal service and we will run these crooks out of office.