Black Press staff
“Chris” has been a Canada Post employee and an active member of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers for more than two decades, in centres across Canada. She agreed to an interview with Black Press under the condition of anonymity, in an effort to get out some of the information she feels is not readily being provided to media regarding the labour dispute.
Chris is “breaking the code” by going to the media to discuss the impending Canada Post mail stoppage, but she says something has to be done to set the record straight.
She is frustrated by not only the lack of negotiations, but more so by what she calls the misinformation being distributed, as both sides consider alternatives, should an 11th hour settlement not be reached.
As of July 2, Canada Post was in a legal position to lock out its workers, and CUPW was in a legal strike position. As of Monday afternoon, neither had happened, as negotiations are ongoing.
“We are not allowed to talk about this, so no one ever does this – you’re just not allowed to talk outside of this little institution that they create,” Chris said, when asked up front of the possible repercussions of going on the record. “I would assume they would try and fire me.”
Despite the risks, she could not remain silent.
“(I’m speaking out) because of the wrongs that Canada Post, the corporation, has imposed on us – from what the Conservative government and Stephen Harper did to us in our last contract (in 2011), to personally the abuse I have endured from management.”
The last work stoppage to affect Canadians was a lockout in 2011. It lasted only 11 days (July 14-25), before back-to-work legislation was pushed through the House of Commons (Bill C-6). Ten days of rotating strikes by the union preceded the lockout.
“He (Harper) legislated a contract that was actually way less than what the corporation was offering us,” said Chris.
“He gave us a worse contract than the one the corporation had offered us, that we had voted ‘no’ on.”
On April 29 of this year, the Supreme Court of Ontario ruled that the former Harper government violated postal workers’ rights, guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In his ruling, Justice Stephen Firestone declared Bill C-6 “unconstitutional and of no force or effect.”
The most recent agreement officially expired Jan. 31 of this year. The union has kept working under the terms of the expired agreement ever since.
The union has voted more than 90 per cent (94 per cent urban; 91 per cent rural) in favour of strike action, but Chris is still hopeful it does not come to that.
“There hasn’t been much talk of a strike because we don’t want to strike; we want to negotiate.”
“We tried to extend the agreement just the other day; we asked them for another two weeks, to negotiate, and they said no. They’ve been wanting to lock us out since that agreement expired, Jan. 31,” said Chris. “They have gone through all the steps to lock us out as quickly as possible.
“Their first offer for a collective agreement was like a week-and-a-half ago (June 25). Throughout all these negotiations, they never put anything on the table until a week-and-a-half ago.”
She pointed out that all the while, Canada Post was advising customers of the possible lockout, without making any efforts to settle.
Make alternate arrangements
“They sent letters out a couple of months ago, saying they were going to lock us out and to find alternate ways of moving your products. They basically told their customers to go somewhere else; go find another place to do your business. We’re not going to be open, and screw you. What company does that? What company tells their customers to go somewhere else?”
Chris said it’s important for Canadians to understand what will happen in the event of a lockout, or a strike.
She pointed out that typically, when the union takes strike action, it’s in the form of rotating strikes, which put pressure on the corporation while limiting the effect to customers.
“When we strike we don’t usually do a general strike, because we care about our customers and we care about giving good customer service,” she said. “What we do is… we will shut down for a day in one place, then a day in another place. It’s usually just for 24 or 48 hours. We feel that’s beneficial for the public and for us, because it cripples the corporation in certain parts at different times (with less effect on Canadians).”
She could not speak about strategies per se, but she believes that if a strike were to take place, it would be of the rotating variety.
“I don’t think we would go on a general strike. We don’t want to do that to our customers.”
CUPW last initiated rotating strikes in June of 2011, prior to the lockout. On June 10 of that year, CUPW offered to end the rotating strikes and return to work under the previous collective agreement. Canada Post refused, and imposed the lockout four days later.
Aside from the pension issue, which is, by both sides’ accounts, the most contentious of all issues in this showdown, another issue in this negotiation stalemate is pay equity for rural delivery people, who became part of the union more than a decade ago.
“We took them in in 2003 or 2004 as part of our union, under a separate agreement,” said Chris. “At that time, some of them were making less than $7 or $6 an hour. We had the corporation at that time increase their pay to a minimum of $12 an hour, but we want them to make the same as (urban carriers). They do the same job as us; they should get paid the same.”
Chris said it becomes a gender equality issue as well.
“Over 70 per cent of the rural carriers are female, whereas the majority of the urban carriers are males, so there is a gender issue here. It’s like, why do we pay the female letter carriers way less than the male carriers?”
There is also the issue about pay and benefits for future employees. The union is fighting hard to protect the rights of future employees – a tactic that has proven unpopular with many Canadians, when reading reactions to articles posted online.
In this day and age, is it wise for a union to protect future members, or should current members be more concerned about themselves?
“Our union is based on everyone being the same,” said Chris. “To look at it that way – to protect ourselves and not worry about anyone coming in later – is a selfish approach.”
In its offer tabled June 25, Canada Post offered a zero per cent pay increase across the board in the first year, and one per cent in the second year.
Chris said she believes the union’s counter-offer was three per cent.
“That’s what it has always been in the past,” she said.
“They keep saying they have no money for us, but they have been profitable since 1994.”
According to the Canada Post 2015 Annual Report, the Crown corporation has made just a shade under $300 million in net profit in the past two years – $198 million in 2014, and $99 million in 2015.
“In 2013 they initially reported a net profit of $321 million but quickly turned it into a loss of $29 million because of a new accounting formula that they are using,” said Chris.
The issue of suspended benefits in the case of a lockout is a concern to all employees. There is the possibility that, should Canada Post lock out the union, it will also cease benefits to the employees during the lockout, as it did in 2011. Chris said that scenario could have devastating consequences.
“We were told that if we need prescriptions, get three months because your benefits will be cut off. And that includes people that are undergoing cancer treatments. They are not going to have benefits, and if people can’t afford to take that out of their pocket, they are not going to be able to get their treatments, and people could die because of that. And they (Canada Post) don’t care. They don’t care at all.”
Chris said there’s a community aspect to her career that is rarely discussed, but part of the job: the personal relationships developed between mail carriers and their customers.
“We become part of our communities, we become your friends,” she said, then offered a scenario to put things into perspective. “There are so many people whose lives we have saved. Like the old lady who always comes to the door to get her mail. One day she’s not there. We knock on the door, no answer. We look through the window and there she is lying on the floor, so we call an ambulance. That happens all the time; that happens almost on a daily basis (in the country). We end up being part of the cast that ends up saving people’s lives.”
Chris recognizes that any employment strife regarding public employees is a polarizing issue, but she thinks CUPW has the support of the majority of Canadians.
“I believe, for the most part … I believe Canadians are on our side. Certainly not everybody, I know there’s a split. But it seems like the people who are against us don’t understand, and are being misled by a lot of the information out there. We have had so many things on the news about a postal strike – it automatically turns into a postal strike, and that’s not what this is, at all. That’s a big reason why I am doing this (interview).”
Chris said she is hopeful of a quick resolution.
“Trudeau said he wasn’t going to step into the labour disputes, but hopefully he will step into this one, because of the mess Harper has made of it, and the fact that Harper’s guy is in charge.”
Canada Post did not respond to an interview request.