Pondering the fauxstal strike

Pondering the fauxstal strike

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It’s a remarkable symbol of societal progress when everyone involved in a public postal system can refuse to work and still be guaranteed to keep their jobs.

But things like that are a little hard to appreciate when our mail is being held hostage. Fortunately that didn’t have to happen this summer, but threats of strikes and lockouts were constant from May through August.

Even though both sides knew for years when that contracts were due to expired, it took them another two months after the deadline to agree upon how much posties should be paid.

During those two months, posties threatened to strike against the Canada Post Corporation, and the CPC responded by indicating its willingness to lockout the posties. So no matter who’s demands weren’t met, they were both threatening to disrupt service. I have trouble understanding how one party can expect any leverage over the other by issuing the exact same threat.

Maybe they were inspired by the threat of mutually-assured destruction that got us through the Cold War. But I find it more reminiscent of a disciplinary measure at my old high school: If students were caught cutting class or arriving late more than a few times, they would be suspended. Analyzing that logic was some of my earliest appreciation of irony; the deterrent to prevent us from missing school was threats of making us miss more school.

Much like teenagers who don’t want to go to school, bloated Crown corporations seem to think of inactivity as a form of progress. They somehow found a way to use stagnancy a bargaining tool.

Both sides want the work stoppage to convince the common folk that their plight is more important – their campaigns invoke sympathy for the noble posties who are being nickel and dimed at the wrath of corporate greed, while also addressing the reality that Canada Post can’t continue to offer the same levels of service and compensation while up against technological advancements that are crippling the industry. Some people hate big corporations, others hate public unions. This recent dog and pony show isn’t going to change anyone’s mind.

Some of our forefathers worked extremely hard to improve the brutally dangerous working conditions they once endured. But they weren’t advancing human rights so that work stoppages could become so routine and frequent.

Organization as large as the CPC and the CUPW would presumably staff their communication departments with professionals. Yet these people who somehow made a career out of diplomacy couldn’t even be in the same room together without a federally appointed mediator. They had one job – hash out a new contract. But they missed their deadline by two months, and the agreement isn’t even fully ratified. If that level of incompetence happened to any private business, heads would roll.

Thankfully we’re not bound to the suffrage of public union hacks and useless bureaucrats – there are privately-operated alternatives we can use in lieu of Canada Post. But I don’t think privatizing the postal system would improve the lives of Canadians; there are many invaluable qualities that only a public system can offer. And even though some of CUPW’s strategies epitomize all that’s wrong with public unions, their goals are entirely commendable; they’re protecting the quality of service and the number of good-paying postie jobs in every community across the country. And the fat cats at Canada Post aren’t opposing CUPW’s demands to ruin livelihoods and diminish the quality mail delivery – they’re just trying to balance the spreadsheets to keep the business viable.

It’s just too bad the negotiators on both sides have so much job security – they’re terrible at what they do. I wonder if they’ll always be held to such low standards.

2 COMMENTS

  1. As one of those professionals working in communications whom you malign, I’m here to tell you that your ‘editorial’ is riddled with errors and should be immediately corrected or withdrawn.

    To begin, the postal workers did not threaten to strike. Not once during the course of this negotiations. Canada Post Corporation threatened to lock them out by serving a lockout notice in July, which it withdrew. Postal workers “threatened” to take the mildest of job actions, a refusal of overtime, finally, when their legal mandate was about to expire and they had little choice to do otherwise. It was not a refusal to work and should not be depicted as such.

    But perhaps you would like to live in a society where nobody has the right to refuse to withdraw their labour. In Canada, we have those rights guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. From your desk chair, you scoff at workers who have one of the highest injury rates in Canada and who (literally) go the extra mile to serve the public.

    You are also presenting incorrect information when you write that the parties couldn’t be in the same room with federal mediators. They were meeting together for months. So where did you get this information? From the same place as your statement that technology is “crippling” Canada Post? That’s why Canada Post has made millions of dollars, year after year, with a couple of exceptions, one being the year it locked out its workers. How many private sector companies could boast of such multi-million dollar profits? The technology of online shopping is making Canada Post the most successful company in Canada at the parcel business. Get your facts straight.

    You’ve got some nerve to write of “incompetence” and “low standards” when you cannot even be bothered to research the facts. This editorial reads like a high school student wrote it. Actually, I retract that statement as an insult to high school students everywhere.

    Aalya Ahmad
    CUPW Communications

    • I don’t agree that any corrections need to be made.

      CUPW’s threat that its posties wouldn’t be working overtime (Alberta and NWT on Aug. 29 and then BC and Yukon on Aug. 30) was a refusal to fulfill professional duties as a form of protest – that’s what a strike is. A watered-down version of a strike is still a strike so that’s what it’s getting called in my column. Even on one of CUPW’s bulletins, the “Plan for strike action” called for employees to work no overtime. – http://www.cupw.ca/en/alert-4-%E2%80%93-strike-activities

      You point out how CUPW had little choice than to issue those threats, and that’s exactly what I was trying to address with my column. I don’t agree with the status quo. There’s a better way for people to communicate than what you guys are doing, and Canada Post and CUPW are equally as guilty. Canadians were dragged through the same thing in 2011, and there’s no indication that it won’t happen next time your contracts expire.

      My scoffing was directed towards public unions and not the posties. The actual mailmen have no choice but to be represented by CUPW, so even if they were willing to accept one of Canada Post’s earlier offers, they weren’t free to do so. Canadians don’t need unions to protect their Charter right to refuse unfair work.

      Even two months after nine months of negotiations, both CUPW and Canada Post still reported being far apart on key issues. It wasn’t until a mediator convinced both sides to extend negotiations by 24-hours two times that suddenly the negotiators found common ground on those key issues. The federally-appointed mediator sounds like he did well, but to accomplish so little after 10 months makes your negotiators and the negotiators at Canada Post seem very incompetent. I have higher expectations of people in the business of communication. And it’s not fair to expect immunity from criticism because carriers are subject to higher injury rates. I’ve gotten hurt at work too. I find it silly to compare mailmen to the handful of hack negotiators who (from their armchairs) failed to meet a deadline nine months away – they’re not walking around in -30C or getting bitten by dogs. I greatly appreciate the work that posties do, but they are not their union, and CUPW’s job isn’t to fight for the public interest.

      As somebody who works in newspaper, it’s a little hard for me to ignore the effects the internet is having on my industry. The medium is having very profound effects, believe it or not. Perhaps it was a hyperbolic of me to use the word crippling, but a report that came out last week corroborates the notion that Canada Post’s business model isn’t sustainable. It’s called Canada Post in the Digital Age –

      “As a result of the disruptive effect of evolving technologies (e.g., Internet and smart phones), Canadians’ postal usage is changing. Mail volumes are down (in 2015, the Canada Post segment delivered 8.8 billion pieces of mail down from a peak of 11.6 billion pieces for the segment in 2007) but 170,000 new addresses are added each year. Less mail is delivered to more addresses, which has the effect of increasing Canada Post’s per-unit mail delivery costs.

      Canadians still use mail but the mix of the mail delivered to the mail box is changing rapidly. Transaction Mail (domestic and international Lettermail, including letters, bills, statements, invoices and postcards) volumes have declined by 32 per cent or 1.6 billion pieces since 2006. This type of mail is no longer the main type of mail delivered despite still providing 50 per cent of the Canada Post segment’s 2015 revenue of $6.3 billion in part as a result of stamp price increases in 2014.”

      Canada Post also alludes to the need to restructure –

      “Our employees are coming to work to find the amount of mail and parcels they process and deliver has dropped significantly. Parcel volumes from our major e-commerce customers have declined by more than 80 per cent. Yesterday alone, the amount of mail deposited across our network was down more than 80 per cent compared with the same day last year.”

      And regarding last year’s profit, Canada Post says $63 million is “modest in comparison to the Corporation’s revenue and the significant challenges facing the Canadian postal system.”

      But regardless how much money your work makes, my column is about how counter productive the negotiating process has become. The negotiators’ inability to reach a deal without a mediator is an insult to human intelligence, let alone the word professionalism. Your cynicism came through clearly, but you didn’t share any ideas that could prevent future bargaining stalemates. Given that the unions representing police and firefighters have to hammer out their contracts without threatening to strike, it’s hard to appreciate the way you guys do it. Maybe I’m the only Canadian who’s fed up with trite work stoppages, but I’m happy to live in a society where conflicting ideas are allowed to be published.

      Dan Walton
      Oliver Chronicle

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