Members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) arrived for work Wednesday and discovered the doors were locked. The CUPW has been waging a contract war with Canada Post by employing a series of rolling strikes across the country for the past two weeks. Canada Post reports that selective work stoppages, which targeted major hubs in each province, cost the company $100 million and has resulted in a 50% drop in mail volume as Canadians find other ways to ship goods and letters.
Rural Service Not Effected for Now
Living rural, as I do, the mail disruption has been minimal. Rural mail carriers operate under a different contract than their urban counterparts, but Canada Post warns that the lockout could be long and eventually all mail delivery will be effected.
What’s at stake for both workers and Canada Post is the business of old-fashioned mail delivery itself as more Canadians opt to receive and pay bills online and turn to other companies like Fed-Ex and UPS to send and receive goods. Canada Post, much like the U.S. Postal Service, has seen the rise of the Internet eat away at mail volume over the last decade, making “snail mail” less and less attractive to consumers who have faster and even free options.
The sticking point in this latest labor dispute revolves around proposals to deal with declining mail volume and a $3.2 billion pension deficit. CUPW balked at Canada Posts proposal to reduce full-time employees in favor of part-time, prompting the initial rolling strikes, but though Canada Post withdrew that idea, the problem of staying competitive in a shrinking market remains.
The 50,000 CUPW workers were surprised by the lock-out, which was only decided upon late Tuesday by the company, and company officials warn that unless the government steps in with legislation forcing the workers back to work, the union should expect to be out of work for a while. While they have declined to become involved so far, the Labour Minister is looking at options.
So far there has been little public outrage where I live. The Edmonton strike last Wednesday resulted in a day or two of no mail for myself and my neighbors. We live in a tiny hamlet outside Fort Saskatchewan, and I observed a half-dozen CUPW workers with picket signs as I walked through the downtown that day. They chatted, drank their Timmy’s coffee and waved from the picket line. Surprisingly, we had mail the next day. My neighbor remarked on it as I passed her with a bundle of junk mail.
“The mail came today?” she asked. “I hardly notice when it doesn’t. Do most everything online and the only thing in the mailbox are flyers.”
Flyers or mail from Canada Revenue because the government, at least, supports the old system.
The real danger to both the CUPW and Canada Post, which both groups are aware of, is the fact that the business lost during the strike is unlikely to return. Small businesses especially are effected and messing with their bottom line in these recessionary times could have devastating consequences. Canadians are no less anti-union than Americans, and when the subject has come up on radio or in newspaper comment forums, the mood is decidedly against the CUPW.
What Do You Think?
Are services like Canada Post relics whose time is over? Would you miss mail? Mail boxes? How do you receive and pay bills? And is there a downside to leaving the paper trail behind us? Let’s hear from you.
Photo credit: Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha! by Scazon