When Action Defies Logic – A Canadian Postal Strike

Canada Post LLV in service
Image via Wikipedia

An interesting look at some of the facts and issues around the current Canada Post labour dispute:

Canada Post‘s  usage is down by 17%.  

If there is a postal strike what do you think will happen?  That’s right, more people will find a way to do without Canada Post services.  Yes, we all still have some component of ‘snail mail’ in our lives, but the withdrawal of services will encourage us to limit our usage even further.  A strike will certainly increase public support for more e-services and a wider reach of broadband internet to rural areas, but not create a demand for more people based services.  I bet with a strike we could see the decrease in usage get to over 20% this year.  Less usage equals less revenue for the corporation which equals less postal workers employed.

However, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) is pushing for a strike.  Given that it is counter-intuitive to job security, there must be some real issues facing these employees, let’s look:

1) CUPW has Wage increase demands of 3.3% in 2011 and 2.75% each of the following year (2012, 2013, and 2014)

According to Human Resource and Skills Development Canada, major collective bargaining settlements reached in March 2011 provided base rate wage adjustments averaging 1.1% annually. ( These numbers are based on a review of 18 agreements which cover at least 500 employees a piece and 40,740 employees overall.)  CUPW claims that for its lower paid Groups 1 and 2 this is an $0.80/hour increase.  With a little reverse math that means the lowest paid employees make roughly $24.35 per hour.  A quick search on the Canada Post site for job openings that revealed entry level positions require only a Grade 10 education.

I’ll refrain from making any direct comments, but let’s move on to see if we can find a bigger issue.

2) Hours of Work

CUPW has claimed their lowest paid workers make less than $48,000 per year.  Again with a little reverse math and the hourly rate we calculated above we can deduce that their average weekly hours are no more than 37.5 hours per week.  Yet, CUPW has stated its demand as “As postal workers, we deserve a reduced workload and improved benefits and working conditions. ” (www.cupw.ca).

So they must mean the improved benefits and working conditions…

3) Benefits

The Canada Post website states:

“As a regular employee, you’ll enjoy a broad health-care plan, extensive dental coverage, including orthodontic services and a wide-ranging vision and hearing care plan. Benefits also include vacation leave that increases with your length of service, sick-leave protection and a wide range of other paid and unpaid leave options, including compassionate care and parental leave. As well, you will benefit from life and disability insurance, and can take advantage of various other insurance products at preferential rates.”

With a little digging and we find:

  • vacation ranges from 3 to 7 weeks/year with service
  • a defined benefit pension plan (you private sector folks will want to Google that so you know what it is)
  • a full pension earned after 30 years of service (can be taken as early as age 55)
  • employees can bank sick days

So it must be the working conditions…

5) Working Conditions

No cheeky comments here.  We have snow in many parts of this country for months.  Our winters are cold and our summers are hot.  Those postal workers who are responsible to walk door to door do so in all types of weather.

That being said, can Canada Post control that?  Has it really gotten any worse since the last collective agreement?

There must be other issues regarding working conditions that need to be addressed.    Occupational Health and Safety concerns have been cited but there is legislation to address those. CUPW also claims they have concerns regarding respect and equality.  However they define respect in part as ‘maintaining and improving employee benefits’ and equality as ensuring full-time, part-time, and temporary employees are treated equally regarding benefits.  I can’t see these issues as being enough to strike over.

Regardless, I wish them well in their battle, and hope to goodness they see more value in their fight than I do.  To me it seems. these men and women are looking at going on strike to protest what seems to be little more than working conditions in a time where there services are at risk of becoming extinct.

My advice:  Sit down with management and knock out agreement on everything other than working conditions.  Include some cost saving measures to help improve services and maintain a public postal system.  This is a reorganizing and restructuring agreement.  Push to make changes to working conditions after a model that is seeing a steady level of services has been established.   This can be done between bargaining rounds through your labour management committee. Come up with an MOU to ensure specific concerns are discussed during the life of the agreement.   After all, there is no sense making improvements to working conditions if you do not have a job.


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