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Postal workers serve strike notice: 'We want Canada Post to know how serious we are'

A Canada Post worker prepares to leave the Canada Post depot in Halifax on Oct. 17, 2018.
A Canada Post worker prepares to leave the Canada Post depot in Halifax on Oct. 17, 2018. - Tim Krochak

HALIFAX -- Both the Canadian Union of Postal Workers and Canada Post have potential work-stoppage issues to address.

“We are giving more than the 72 hours’ notice required,” said Mike Keefe, a postal retail clerk in Halifax who serves as first vice-president of the national union’s 600-member Nova local.

“We want Canada Post to know how serious we are but we want them to know that we would much rather have a negotiated settlement without any work stoppage. We are giving them ample time.”

The national union has served notice to the Crown corporation that job action in the form of rotating strikes will begin next week if an agreement is not reached.

Keefe said the notice was filed in Ontario, meaning the job action could begin by 1 a.m. Atlantic time Monday.

“If things are going well we can always withdraw that notice,” Keefe said of ongoing negotiations.

Two separate units are in a strike position. The Urban Postal Operations is made up of 42,000 national workers employed in post offices and plants as letter carriers, mail service couriers, postal clerks, mail handlers, mail dispatchers and technicians. The other unit – Rural and Suburban Mail Carriers (RSMCs) – consists of 8,000 employees nationwide who deliver mail in rural and suburban areas. The majority of RSMCs are women.

The key demands for workers are job security, an end to forced overtime and overburdening, better health and safety measures, service expansion and equality for RSMCs.

Canada Post, on its website, says it has made significant offers to CUPW that include increased wages, job security, and improved benefits and has not asked for any concessions.

“We value the relationship with the union and have been able to find common ground on some issues and have also committed to work together constructively on several important files,” the site says. “Those include working 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.”

Keefe agrees that those are some of the issues that are bogging talks down.

“The RSMCs were making 25 to 30 per cent less than the letter carriers for doing essentially the same job,” Keefe said. “But it’s not just how much they are paid. It’s how they are paid.”

He said letter carriers are given time values for keeping log books, for breaks and all the different things they do for the day, adding up to eight hours. The RSMCs get paid piecemeal, a flat rate for doing their work, he said

“At Christmas last year, letter carriers would go out and deliver the extra mail and get paid double time for doing it.” RSMCs got paid so much per parcel delivered, plus mileage.

“We are trying to get a more fair system for the RSMCs, closer to what letter carriers get.”

But he said even the letter carrier system is flawed, a system built on the corporation’s past practice of predominantly delivering letters. Now, letters are on the decline and parcel delivery is going through the roof, Keefe said.

“Nobody is advocating that you should be able to do an eight-hour job in five hours. What we feel is that 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.”

The overburdening is leading to a dramatic increase in injuries on the job, Keefe said. Door-to-door delivery has been largely replaced by the influx of community mailboxes, especially in HRM.

“Before that, an average route had 500, 600 or 700 points of call. … Now, your average letter carrier walk has about 1,600 points of call because they are being sorted into the super mailboxes. You are getting a lot more repetitive strain injuries. Instead of walking up to a door and putting it in a mailbox and walking away and going to the next door, now you are sitting there at community mailbox sites, constantly, repetitively doing the same motion.”

He said the proliferation of flyer delivery exacerbates that situation.

Keefe said another issue is that casual and temporary workers who are hired permanently take seven years to climb to the top of the pay grid despite the years of experience they have gained as casual employees.

Keefe said the average gross salary for a postal clerk and letter carrier is about $55,000 a year.

He said union workers were locked out by Canada Post in 2011 and then-prime minister Stephen Harper stepped in to end the lockout. And if the present Liberal government were to legislate striking postal workers back to work, it wouldn’t be the first time, Keefe said.

But Keefe said he’s likely to be on the job Monday.

“What we’ve said is if we don’t have a negotiated deal or if we are not making progress, we are going to begin rotating strikes. The mail will still be moving because it will only be a few locations at a time per day that would be out.”

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