Dozens of letter carriers stood with placards and signs outside the Maple Ridge Delivery Centre on Lougheed Highway Tuesday morning to protest Canada Post’s decision to cut mail service to three days a week.
The 48,000 members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, which include local letter carriers and retail employees, have been without a contract since May 30 after the union rejected an offer from Canada Post. That contract offer would have seen the creation of a two-tier wage scale, reducing starting wages to $17 from close to $23 an hour.
As of this week, Canada Post has reduced mail delivery to Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays in urban areas, and reduced staffing levels at mail processing plants across the country. Priority items will still be delivered five days a week.
Most of Maple Ridge will be affected by the service reductions. Pitt Meadows, Whonnock, Ruskin, Rock Ridge, Silver Valley and other neighbourhoods serviced by rural and suburban carriers will not be affected, however, as those carriers belong to a different union.
Canada Post claims the service reductions are to meant to help the Crown corporation recoup mounting financial losses after rotating strikes by Canadian Union of Postal Workers began two weeks ago. Since rotating strikes began, roughly 30 per cent of the country has experienced service disruption.
The uncertainty of where postal workers will strike from day-to-day has made it difficult to plan logistics and transportation, as well as staffing levels, according to Canada Post.
Joe Whitney, picketing in Maple Ridge on Tuesday, works in Port Coquitlam and said he’s been told if he can’t deliver the mail in eight hours to hold it until the next day.
“We’re here wanting to work,” said Dee Buchanan, another postal worker. “They’re not letting us.”
Should rotating strikes continue, Canada Post won’t be able to sustain its operations across the country, Canada Post stated in press release Tuesday.
“Canada Post is disappointed with the union’s refusal to accept the company’s fair and reasonable offer – one that provides job security, a defined benefits pension plan and annual wage increases. Therefore, the company is urging the union to accept its offer and not cause further inconvenience to Canadians.”
However, CUPW president Denis Lemelin claims Canada Post is hoping the government will force a contract on postal workers.
“Canada Post is doing everything it can to provoke the union into a national walkout in the hope the government will intervene,” Lemelin said in a press release Monday. “They are not interested in negotiating with us to end this strike. They want to force postal workers to take concessions.”
So far, local post offices have not been targeted for strike action.
The Whonnock post office in east Maple Ridge is one that won’t be effected by strike action.
“It should be business as usual,” says Sue Schulze, who manages the Whonnock post office. “It might take a little bit longer for your mail to get where it’s going, but it’s really not effecting anyone that much.”
CUPW Local 704 president Cindy McDonnell, who represents local postal workers, said the two-tier wage scale Canada Post has proposed is troubling, and that workers are most concerned about the health and safety impacts of the contract.
In an effort to modernize the delivery of mail, Canada Post has included provisions that will result in letter carriers having to carry more at once, leaving them overburdened as they walk their routes.
“They already tried this in Winnipeg, and injuries went through the roof,” said McDonnell. “Letter carriers already account for 76 per cent of the injuries [suffered by] Canada Post employees.”
Canada Post has also stopped paying out extended medical benefits to employees since the previous contract expired two weeks ago.
“This is having a serious impact on the health of postal workers,” she said.
Canada Post says it must address labour costs as a result of a 17 per cent drop in letter-mail business since 2006 due to a rise in online bill payments and other electronic communications.
However, McDonnell contends that mail volumes have stayed steady in B.C.
“Certainly the make-up of the mail has changed; there are not as many letters,” she said. “But there is also been an increase of online ordering, and more ad mail.”
The last postal strike was in 1997, when posties walked out for two weeks before being legislated back to work.
– with files from Jeff Nagel
Elections B.C. has posted a list of locations on its website (www.elections.bc.ca) of where voters can drop off HST referendum ballots if they’re concerned about mail deliveries. The ballots are supposed to be mailed out to households starting June 13 in most of rural B.C. and starting June 20 in the Lower Mainland. They must be received by Elections B.C. by July 22.