Scores of local postal workers walked off the job this morning in Lindsay and Bobcaygeon for 24 hours in a coordinated effort to draw attention to what has become a protracted strike. Calling for better health and safety conditions, gender equality, and a return to postal banking, Cheryl MacMillan, the president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) Local 564, says workers are “overburdened.”
“Parcel delivery has exploded,” she tells the Advocate, with carriers often working 10-12 hour days to finish up their deliveries. While they are paid for this, it is a forced overtime and it’s taking its toll on workers’ health, she says.
While letter mail has declined over the years, increasingly more Canadians are ordering parcels online, such as through Amazon, and now medical marijuana packages through the mail have also surged.
As well, MacMillan says the crown corporation has offered wage increases below the inflation rate, “even though they’ve been profitable for 19 years straight,” she says. Temp workers are also starting to be used, who are not offered full time work.
With most rural letter carriers being women and most urban letter carriers being men, there is also a gender equality issue at play, says the union president.
While rural letter carriers now make the same pay, in theory, as their urban counterparts, they don’t get paid hourly – it’s more like a salary.
“They’re often working way past the time” they’ve been told their route should take, MacMillan says, but they get paid the same amount regardless.
The local president says the union also wants to keep all the small local post offices open and points out that “bringing back postal banking would help accomplish this.”
Postal banking was something Canada Post did decades earlier, ending the practice in 1968.
According to a Chronology of Canadian Postal history, early in the 20th century, authorities within the Post Office department developed a “finite view of the role of government institutions in the banking sector.”
“This finite view would cut short any dreams of expanding the system. Indeed, it would make the decision in 1968-69 to abandon the Post Office Savings Bank that much easier.”
In other words, big banks became more powerful and moved in to fill the needs of Canadians. But as banks began to scale back their operations in small villages, arguing there wasn’t enough profit in keeping them open in small centres, Canada Post offices could fill the void.
In a paper from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), the author points out that in other models for postal banking around the world, “special services (can be) offered to low income and Aboriginal Canadians, similar to services offered by both the French and New Zealand post office financial systems.”
Kiwibank, owned by New Zealand Post, “has been able to offer a wide range of services, including special mortgage products to low-income earners and to the Maori (indigenous) community,” according to the CCPA.
These low-fee banking options would fill a void where big banks’ fees have become oppressive for lower income people, and it would help rural post offices stay relevant by providing a needed service.
CUPW members are still without agreements for the Urban Postal Operations and Rural and Suburban Mail Carriers (RSMC) bargaining units after almost a year of negotiations.