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Monday, November 19, 2018

Endorsing Canada Post workers' legitimate demands for respect, decency, and dignity...NOW!

A while back, I wrote a piece that called on Canada Post to transform dramatically, creatively and immediately the culture of its workplace, from the demeaning, insulting, archaic, and counter-intuitive “scientific management” of the early twentieth century, in which workers were distrusted, insulted, considered a “drain” (cost) only, and certainly not the back bone of the organization.

Formulae that measure kilometers, points of call, numbers of flyers, numbers of “deliver to door” with or without signatures, numbers of lock changes (on Community Mail Boxes), numbers of vacation and personal days (both of which are abused by the head office of HR), whether or not “exit” signs have been posted in small rural offices….these demonstrate a culture of anality, obsessive-compulsive and neurotic, if not psychotic orientation and culture. And, when and if anything threatens the status quo, like falling numbers of hard-copy letters, documents, bills and the like, the corporation cries loud and wide, crying the apocalypse is no longer “coming;” it is already here!

Positive, present, listening, and attentive leadership to the core resource of this highly labour-intensive operation, the workers, has to replace the kind of pre-twentieth-century attitudes and beliefs and practices. The research is unequivocal that workers who are respected, trusted and valued and supported with policies, practices and supervisory relationships that live up to such benchmarks go beyond the minimum, provide more accurate and detailed attention to their tasks, and actually cost less in the long run. Such employees are authentic good-will ambassadors for their employer, and generate positive attitudes among their clients, a factor that is needed and considered so subjective as to be excluded from calculations by both labour and management.

Current obstructions by the corporation seem to include the following items, if reports reaching the employees and the public generally are complete and valid:

·        Restricting pensions by removing a guaranteed delivery amount and replacing it with a higher employee contribution,
·        blocking pay equity between letter carriers and rural carriers,
·        refusing to acknowledge that 1 in 5 letter carriers are injured every year on the job, the highest worker injury rate of all sectors in Canada
·        refusing to enhance profit opportunities by blocking rural banking facilities (is this a genuflection to the government’s cozy relationship with the five “established” banks?)
·        scrimping on the impact of the dramatic increase in parcels, by refusing to hire additional workers, and by demanding twelve-hour days without overtime

Are these, taken together, a hidden campaign to twist the government’s hand to make a decision on significant new numbers of Community Mail Boxes in urban areas, (an initiative begun under the Harper government)? Such a move, linked to a highly sensitive and creative set of adjustments to accommodate special needs of seniors, physically and mentally challenged clients, would reduce the time required to deliver directly to urban residences, and especially to wide-spread rural mail boxes. However, additional CMB’s would also significantly reduce the “community surveillance” currently embedded in the daily life of RSMC’s* in those townships and counties currently operating with restricted or no police protection, except under special circumstances.

Is Canada Post positioning itself, through the latest conflict with workers, for a government decision to sell the entity to a private investor, thereby flushing a cataract of cash into government coffers, at the expense of workers, most of whom, if not all, would automatically be eliminated and de-certified, under private ownership. The example of the Royal Mail, recently offered on public auction, with a few share “crumbs” offered to current workers to soften the blow, could be a model upon which these fractiousness labour negotiations is being built. (It is not incidental to note that the former CEO of Canada Post, Moira Green, was appointed head of Royal Mail, a few years ago, oversaw this transition to public shares, and has more recently retired.

There are cogent and compelling arguments for pay equity changes, health and safety enhancements, stabilized pension arrangements, parcel delivery support through increased hiring. Canada Post cannot wallow along with its corporate eyes glued to the rear-view mirror of their corporate culture, nor to the historic norms of the last century. Amazon, UPS, FedEx, DHL and other parcel-sales and distribution agencies are gobbling bigger chunks of the delivery sector of the economy, Technologies, too, are changing both the methods and the budgets of message and parcel transportation. We are all aware of the significant decline in raw numbers of union members, especially driven by the fall in manufacturing jobs. Male union membership has been falling, while female memberships in sectors like health care and education, have been rising slightly.

On the shop floor level, however, union “leverage” has significantly declined in recent years, inside and outside Canada Post. Complaints, dubbed “grievances” far too often go unaddressed, even unheard, and certainly not accommodated by the corporation. It is these insidious omissions of responsibility, including the off-loading Employment Assistance Programs to private corporations, leave the company with merely a statistical account of the numbers and the relative severity of the challenges faced by postal workers. Evidence suggests, from office co-workers who have sought support from the Morneau-Shepell-Great-West-Life two-headed corporate ally administering worker assistance, that “counsellors” rotate shifts, leaving postal workers to repeat the details of their “story” to a new counsellor each time they call for assistance. Clearly, this default position does not and cannot engender confidence among workers whose experience tells them that their personal issues are so insignificant to those tasked with professional support that they are passed from one to another in a cavalier and inconsistent and thereby unsubstantial and fragile, if not defective system.
These details do not make it into the public consciousness.  Other details also never reach the public consciousness, including, but not restricted to:

·        being stuck in snow-drifts for up to five hours after calling CAA whose tow truck could not navigate through the drifts leaving only a township front-end loader the only answer to escape, or of
·        being bitten by stray dogs, or of
·        falling down un-shovelled, icy steps,  
·        trapesing through snow drifts to get a signature only to find no one home, or
·        twisting one’s back in an attempt to wrestle a full bed frame out of the delivery vehicle, and up the stairs into a customer’s apartment

While, to some, this list may sound like whining, it comprises an intimate and personal account of some of the “normal” working conditions, not to mention weather vagaries, customer anti-labour attitudes, or supervisory insouciance.

From this desk, conditions have now morphed to a state where a middle-ground of support for both corporation and worker is no longer tenable. Compromise, moderation, a gentle and somewhat clinical and sanitized, if dispassionate, attitude to labour negotiations, in the west, no longer serve the spine, the heart and the body of the economy, the worker.

Political and economic power is stacked in favour of the corporate board rooms, and their occupants. Public attitudes are no longer modest or moderate when it comes to unions getting a fair shake. Public attitudes are contemptuous, or perhaps even worse, disinterested and detached, unless and until their “pocket-book” or their special holiday presents might be delayed, or heaven forbid, not delivered until after the big day, December 25.

I owe by former co-workers at Canada Post a deep and sincere apology for having been so milquetoast, and so dilettantish and debonair, so dispassionate and detached in the earlier blog post on this issue. This labour dispute is at the core of the future of labour rights and corporate obligations for the next decades, generations and perhaps even the rest of the century. Canadian Union of Postal Workers members are fighting for legitimate, warranted and long-overdue, yet reasonable consideration, expressed through their pay slips, their work assignments, their health and safety supports, their pension benefits and their pursuit of their emotional, physical and mental workplace health.

And the rest of us, whether or not Canada Post’s decisions did, do or will have a direct impact on our lives, owe it to our children, grandchildren and their children to take this labour dispute very seriously, far more seriously this this scribe has done heretofore.

It is the future of the labour movement that is under fire from the plethora of right-wing efforts to demonize all signs of anything that smacks of a collective, collaborative and balanced approach to workers rights. Corporations will ignore, deny, or supress their legitimate responsibilities, as long as they can get away with such contemptuous disregard of their workers. Airline pilots are expected to fly far too many hours, without rest; truck drivers are expected, even required, to drive far longer hours than their bodies can withstand; delivery couriers (UBEReats, etc) are being struck and injured and falling off their bicycles, without the benefit of legal worker protection. (Some are even classed as “phone answering services” to avoid the company payments to the Worker Compensation Boards.) Workplace injuries, especially in non-unionized shops, receive only a bare minimum of support. More work is piled on workers by management, in both unionized and non-unionized shops, without a collective push-back from workers who fear for their loss of their jobs even if they took leave under their doctor’s supervision and requirement.

We do not have to take a “hands-off” position to this labour dispute, as too many corporate leaders and government leaders are doing with global warming and climate change. We are not powerless, in that or in this dispute.

We can write to our Member of Parliament, asking for a fair settlement of this current dispute. We can express our support to our Canada Post delivery person, the one we take for granted who trudges through the elements, hot and cold, the heave and light mail days, the friendly and not-so-much customer encounters, and the supervisory indignities and insouciance.

And our support can only energize additional political activism, on behalf of the millions of silent, voiceless and non-represented workers whom we can no longer take for granted.

All workers need the support of all Canadians, especially those current and future workers at Canada Post.

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