Any day now 45,000 postal workers could be on strike or locked out from their job by their employer Canada Post Corporation (CPC). The Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) and CPC have been in negotiation since October. The two sides are at fundamental odds over working conditions, the future of the postal service, and the treatment of new workers.
The CPC, a crown corporation, has been profitable for the last 16 years. In its last reported year, 2009, CPC registered a net profit of 281 million dollars from a total revenue of 3.1 billion dollars. Mail volumes fell in 2009, largely due to the economic downturn, but remained well above what they were 10 years ago. According to CPC in 2009 “the negative pressure on revenue growth was mitigated by cost containment and operational efficiencies along with an unplanned non-cash reduction in employee future benefits expense.”
Thus despite an 8 percent reduction in mail volumes in 2009 CPC was able to make profits by reducing worker’s benefits and denying health and safety concerns of their employees (Postal workers make up about %6 of the federal workforce but account for %20 of federal workforce injuries). And even though CPC recorded its most profitable year in 2009 “Canada Post did not pay a dividend to the Government of Canada in 2009 due to the company’s financial challenges and the need for significant capital reinvestment to modernize the postal system. ”
This reinvestment was the spending of 2 billion dollars to purchase new sorting machines, reorganize routes and reduce “inefficiencies” in the postal service. This capital reinvestment is referred to as the Modern Post. The Modern Post is an attempt by the CPC to reduce the size of its workforce, weaken the power of CUPW, increase the productivity among workers while reducing wages and benefits to those very same workers.
During negotiations the CPC has insisted on creating a two-tiered workplace where new workers will: get paid around %30 less than current employees, will have a defined pension plan where they bear all the risk, longer hours, less job security and less paid leave. This is an obvious ploy to weaken the union by creating resentment among new members and by setting up a precedence for all members wages and benefits to be reduce in future bargaining.
The CPC is also trying to implement working conditions that defy any standard of health and safety. They want letter carriers to carry double bundles in one arm when they are delivering mail. For those of you who are not letter carriers, this means you have two huge satchels on your side, a weird scanner gun, a heavy bundle of mail in your hand and a heavy bundle of mail on that same forearm. This is just plain dangerous, especially with longer routes and inclement weather. In places where they have tried implement this change, letter carriers simply refused to work under such conditions and went out on a wildcat strike.
The CPC is trying to end sick leave as it is known. The want to replace sick days, with a Short-Term Disability (STD) plan. The STD plan pays 30 percent less than sick days, there is a lag of seven days before you can file for STD plan coverage in which you have to use personal days. Your claim is then subject to Manulife’s approval.
So why is the postal worker’s struggle important for us non-postal workers?
First off, CUPW is the most progressive union in Canada. It has been at the forefront of many progressive struggles. It was the first national union to pass a boycott, divestment and sanction resolution against the state of Israel for its illegal occupation of Palestine. CUPW had also been the first Canadian union to pass a boycott resolution against South African apartheid. It has also taken stances against the Iraq war and the Afghan war as well as taking stances against NAFTA and the FTAA. CUPW is also a major reason that maternity leave exists at all in Canada. In 1981, as a result of a 42-day strike, CUPW successfully negotiated 17 weeks of maternity leave paid at a rate of 93% of wages. This was a major breakthrough for all workers as the government and other major employers were forced to provide maternity leave and improve on it.
The defeat of the postal workers would be a major blow to the Canadian labour movement which is also facing huge jobs cuts on the federal level. If the CPC were victorious other major employers would implement many of CPC’s rules regarding sick leave and wage rollbacks and two-tier workplaces. This would be disastrous for all workers, whether they are unionized or not.
The CPC and the Harper government want to privatize our postal system. The CPC over the years has been whittling down the services provided by the postal system. They have reduced rural service, replaced door-to-door service with community mail boxes and got rid of banking services. An expanded postal service would create more jobs and provide more services in our communities.
Our society has become more and more unequal. As the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Linda Mcquaig and others have noted, the top-earning 1 per cent of Canadians almost doubled their share of national income, from 7.7 per cent to 13.8 per cent, over the past three decades. Things are only set to get worse under Harper. Workers, both unionized and non-unionized face a future of precarious job security and working conditions. Migrant labourers, women and people of colour will be facing even worse conditions as the Harper government will cut services, increase the security apparatus and institute a regressive regime that will police borders, bodies and dissent with the utmost cruelty.
This will be done in the service of a system, capitalism, which serves only those who already have power and wealth beyond the wildest imagination of most people in our society.
We are facing a choice in our society. Do we want to live in a place where managers and bosses aim to squeeze out as much profit from our labour and our communities just so a few people can have a third home and a second yacht. Or do we want to live in communities based on social solidarity, where if some one is down and out we help them out as equals and we look out for one another?
So we must support our postal workers with as much effort as we can muster. If they are handed a defeat by the Harper government we will all eventually feel it. So please lets organize and support postal workers in our communities as best we can. Whatever differences we may have, politically or personally, let’s put those aside so we can rally around this important struggle. Put your trust in the postal workers and let’s focus on build community mobilization for this cause.
By practicing solidarity with our postal workers, by talking to our friends and neighbours, by building links in our communities around common struggles we can further build our capacity to resist attacks on those very communities. Also, through struggle we can build a better political analysis based on concrete realities that will help hone future political strategies to fight for a better world.
Together we can win this fight!
How You Can Help:
-Educate yourself on the issues
-Talk to your friends, neighbours, and family about the issues
-Put a sign of support in your window, then go to your neighbour and ask if they will do the same
-Write into your paper, call your radio station, commnet online and demand they get their facts straight and let them know you are with the posties
-Find groups organizing in your community, coordinate actions with them such as: canvassing neighbourhoods, having an information picket, leafleting events, putting up posters, making banners, organize teach-ins, film nights, organizing picket line support, coordinating community food servings, etc….
If there is no group in your community organizing then start one…
An injury to ONE is and an injury to ALL!
For materials (posters and pamphlets) you can use in your communities visit
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