On Monday, Oct. 22, approximately 50,000 postal workers began rotating strike action. After years of the Canada Post management increasing workloads and forced overtime, postal workers have had enough and are fighting back.
Since 2015, the corporation’s Social Responsibility Report noted that injuries to postal workers increased 46 per cent. Of these 30,774 injuries, nearly half, 14,751, were disabling injuries.
The corporation hasn’t accepted responsibility for the conditions in its own workplaces, saying only that “more work must be done”. But the workers see through it. The increase in parcel volumes has meant staff being forced to work harder and faster and carry more at the expense of their safety.
When heavy packages aren’t injuring workers, involuntary forced overtime increases the injury rate.
Postal retail worker Mike Keefe told the Chronicle Herald: “if you have an eight-hour job it should take you eight hours, not 10 or 11 or 12, which it often takes and not just at Christmas anymore because the routes have been overburdened.” For example, Keefe said, owing to increased volumes and restructuring schemes, the needs of the average route in his area have grown by over half from 600 points of call to 1600.
The problem stems from management trying to save costs by cracking the whip over its existing workers, regardless of the demands of the workload. Jim Gallant, CUPW’s regional grievance officer for Atlantic Canada, told CBC News, “There’s a lot of people that are forced into working a lot of overtime instead of [increasing] staffing…In a place like St. John’s, that might mean a lot of overtime instead of hiring 10 more people.”
Workers bear the brunt of management’s ‘cost-saving’
Further, the union’s Oct. 9 bulletin reads, “when we were talking about having CPC provide coverage for all absences, one of the CPC representatives stated, ‘we’re not going there, it’s too costly.’” The most recent update, seen in the Oct. 20 bulletin, showed the corporation refusing to budge on overburdening its workers. “When it comes to choosing between profits and the health of employees, management chooses profits,” it reads.
Another worker wrote: “The last year I worked at Canada Post a woman at the sorting case next to mine broke down sobbing. She was in her mid 40s and ran in ultra marathons, she was former armed forces and the picture of health. She broke down sobbing at her case and started just mumbling to herself about how she was a ‘fuck up’. She couldn’t finish her walk on time and was claiming overtime to get it done. It had almost doubled in length from her old walk. She was the picture of health. I was pretty fit back then, often running 5-7 km a few times a week when I was working for the union. Basically training to stay in good enough shape to do my job when I went back to it between organising drives. This lady was a real athlete and couldn’t get the work done. They know this, they engineered it this way. It is how they make sure no one actually collects a pension or gets the benefits that come with having high seniority. They just simply injure people through making the job impossible.”
Workload up, compensation flat
That increased workload has, unsurprisingly, not come with any significant increase in compensation to match it.
This is especially true for rural and suburban mail carriers (RSMC), who are more often female. One-eighth of RSMCs have suffered injuries since 2015, even as compensation has been about 30 per cent lower than other workers. And, management has fought tooth and nail to ensure it stays that way. These workers are paid by the length of their routes rather than by the hour as their workload becomes heavier. When the union demanded that all its members—rural, suburban and urban—be paid hourly, management refused.
The militant response
The accumulated discontent saw its expression in early September, when the details of their strike vote were announced. 93.8 per cent of urban postal operations workers and 95.9 per cent of RSMCsvoted to walk out if an agreement was not reached.
Immediately, some of the right-wing media began their usual prattling about the need to cut across the strike by “modernizing” postal services to make them less dependent on unionized workers.
Otherwise, the mouthpieces of the union-hating ruling class have, thus far, been silent about the impending strike action. One small B2B magazine, Canadian Underwriter, noted in an article titled How brokers should prepare for Canada Post strike that it “contacted the office of federal labour minister Patty Hajdu asking whether back-to-work legislation is being contemplated or whether the government might impose binding arbitration. No response was received as of Wednesday.”
Fight to win!
We can have no illusions that either the corporation or the Liberals will passively respect the right of workers to organize for better wages and conditions. The union notes in its most recent bulletin, published Oct. 21, “ Canada Post has had a notorious history of attempting to discipline or discharge people who refuse to cross picket lines”.
The fight for fair wages and decent conditions at Canada Post is beginning with a welcomed, defiant mood. We hope it breaks the back of management before it has the chance to break the backs of any more of its workers. But that requires leadership ready to fight to win and push aside any barriers the bosses throw in the way of workers striving for their basic rights. And it requires the support of militant workers and youth.
To join Labour Fightback’s contingent in support of Toronto’s rotating picket line, check out the Facebook event page here.
Victory to the postal workers!