Source: Public domain

High gas prices are hitting Rural and Suburban Mail Carriers (RSMCs) employed by Canada Post particularly hard. Unlike their urban counterparts, RSMCs are not provided with company vehicles. To make matters worse, these workers are also expected to provide their own vehicles containing at least 100 cubic meters of space or more. Such a threshold inevitably puts many who cannot afford more expensive electric vehicles or hybrids firmly into gas guzzler territory.  

The Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA) is supposed to fully reimburse RSMCs for costs of fuel for mail routes. But these “reasonable allowance rates” of $0.61 for the first 5,000 kilometers and $0.55 for all additional kilometers are not sufficient to keep up with the rising cost of fuel. This is yet another way in which the government and the bosses have been making workers pay for the economic crisis. 

These approximately 11,000 workers are now forced to use part of their wages to cover the cost of delivering mail for Canada Post. At the same time, the Canada Post Corporation itself is charging higher prices to customers for parcel delivery with an increased fuel surcharge fee. None of this increase of the fuel surcharge fee, however, is currently being passed along to cover RSMCs added fuel costs. Some RSMCs, as a result, are even having to put off paying phone and electricity bills to be able to cover these costs. One RSMC worker frustratingly stated in a Facebook group that they had to sell family jewelry in order to help afford the gas needed for their route.

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) has set up a petition (that has since been taken down) calling for the CRA to raise its allowance rates for RSMCs by 15 per cent until the price of gas goes down to at least $1.75 a litre. This petition has since been signed by over 4,000 people. While this does show us a glimpse of the wider public support for RSMCs that is out there, we should be honest about the limits of this petition. 

We are dealing with a government that historically does not care about RSMCs. One of the main issues of the 2018 CUPW strike was regarding pay inequity between rural and urban carriers, an issue which has deeper roots than just the present situation can explain. Rather than negotiate in 2018, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau decided to impose back-to-work legislation, removing these workers’ democratic right to strike, and imposing a contract through arbitration that did not meaningfully address any of the real issues in the process. More recently, Canada Post, sensing weakness in the union, pushed for a renewal of the same contract for an additional two years with a mere two per cent yearly wage increase appended on.

We wrote at the time how this renewal should not be accepted as two per cent would not keep up with inflation, and that workers should be prepared to strike if they really wanted to catch up and resolve the underlying pay equity issues. In terms of the question of public support for such a strike, it should be mentioned that CUPW workers have built up lots of goodwill with the public after delivering large quantities of mail in especially unsafe working conditions during the pandemic. Active outreach during a strike could have assured at least passive, if not active public support, increasing the likelihood of victory.  

Prior to the contract vote, CUPW president Jan Simpson and the CUPW National Executive Board coordinated a “vote yes” campaign to the proposed extension which didn’t give fair voice to those who rightfully thought more could have been won in struggle. Part of this “vote yes” campaign claimed that renewing the contract would give members stability to help prepare for the next round of bargaining in 2023. So far we see no such stability nor any serious preparations heading into the next round of bargaining. In fact, a lot of members have been asking where a largely absent Jan Simpson and the rest of the CUPW leadership have been. 

In response to the current situation of soaring fuel costs, a poll in the Facebook group “RSMCs of Canada” asked if members would be in favor of job action. Of over 340 responses, 97 per cent are in favour. In light of this, workers should remember that they have the power to withdraw their labour at any time. With the cost of living reaching critical heights, waiting until 2023 to address compensation rates may be far too late. In these conditions, a powerful rank and file movement at one depot could easily spread to others, creating pressure on the leadership to act in the process, and forcing management to eventually buckle. 

In the here and now, allowance rates must be made not merely “reasonable” but actually cover the full costs of work operations. In the future, RSMCs should be given access to corporate vehicles and gas cards for deliveries, as urban carriers are. A clear struggle around these demands combined with an appeal to the wider working class that is also struggling with inflation could help CUPW workers register a much needed win in this moment.

Momentum from this win could then be carried forward to the contract negotiations in 2023. Prior to this, however, serious attempts at preparation, education and organization of the rank and file for effective strike action must be made. The current national executive in CUPW must prioritize militant, collective, membership-led methods over isolated petitions and appeals to collaborate with the bosses and management. These latter methods have led and can only lead to defeat in the current environment. If they are not prepared to do this, then they should step aside for others that are.