By Dawn Huddlestone and Laura MacLean
“We don’t want to strike. We want to be at work, doing our jobs and moving the mail and parcels for the community,” said Doug McDonald, a full-time postal clerk who has been working for Canada Post in Huntsville for 32 years. “It’s something we’re proud to do. But Canada Post isn’t seriously considering our concerns. Without a decent and fair offer from Canada Post, we’ve been forced into rotating strikes.”
On October 16, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) gave notice to Canada Post that job action would begin the following week if agreements couldn’t be reached for the Urban Postal Operations and Rural and Suburban Mail Carriers (RSMC) bargaining units.
“Our members gave us a clear mandate to take job action if Canada Post refused to address our major issues— health and safety, gender equality and preserving full-time, middle class jobs,” said CUPW national president, Mike Palecek, in a media release.
Key demands for postal workers are job security, an end to forced overtime and overburdening, better health and safety measures, service expansion and equality for RSMCs, noted the release, adding that “the working conditions of postal workers have deteriorated over the last decade in part because Canada Post has failed to properly address the massive increase in parcel volumes and the burden it has placed on members.”
In September, arbitrator Maureen Flynn ordered Canada Post Corporation to pay its rural and suburban carriers, most of them women and most of them earning at least 25 per cent less than their urban counterparts, equal pay. Flynn issued the ruling after the two sides failed to reach an agreement by an August 30 deadline.
With no agreement in place for its other demands, CUPW began rotating strikes in communities across the country on October 22. They reached Huntsville on Friday, November 9, when union members walked a picket line outside the post office on Main Street.
“We’re disappointed with Canada Post’s offers to us and we certainly stand strong and united in fighting for our offers and proposals to Canada Post,” said McDonald. “We had collectively over 94 per cent (of employees) to fight for those rights.”
He added that the pay equity win doesn’t go far enough. “Rural Suburban Mail Carriers are not paid for all hours they work. They have a daily rate and if they work longer than that they are not paid for that. They need to be paid for all hours worked. There’s huge health and safety concerns. They have the highest injury-on-duty rate just behind the mining sector. There’s huge health and safety concerns in delivering mail. There’s trips, slips and falls and an increase in parcels. We want those concerns to be addressed for not just the mail carriers but for all members of Canada Post. This labour situation between the union and Canada Post is for inside workers, letter carriers, Rural Suburban Mail Carriers.”
In a November 10 update, Canada Post said that it “remains committed to the bargaining process. The Corporation has made significant offers to CUPW that include increased wages, job security, and improved benefits, and it has not asked for any concessions in return.”
Canada Post added that it has “also committed to work together to address employees’ workload concerns caused by parcel growth, additional financial services and going beyond pay equity for Rural and Suburban employees by extending job security and moving to one uniform for all delivery employees.”
On the same day, CUPW posted a message from Dave Bleakney, CUPW’s second national vice-president, that began, “Courage, focus and patience! We are up against big forces and an ‘operations’ culture that has used us. It is not easy and we need each other. We can change our working conditions for the better, not by asking but by making it happen—by showing our collective strength.”
McDonald said he’s proud to be a CUPW member and acknowledged that “we get bashed a lot and we get a lot of support.” But he added that it’s important to note that the union “fights for social justice. In the early ’80s we were out on the picket for 40 days for paid maternity for the ladies. We were the first sector to win. Men were out there as well. I didn’t picket to win. It was a social issue. Shortly after, all Canadians won that right. Members of CUPW fought for that great cause. For our union, it’s not that we want more money or paid leave. We’re fairly looked after. It’s the labour struggle our union has put forth.”
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