By the time the Canadian Union of Postal Workers’ rotating strike hit Victoria Tuesday, Canada Post mail volumes had already decreased by half since the job action began.
After seven months of contract negotiations with the Crown corporation, 600 of the 48,000-member-union walked off the job in Victoria for 24-hours on June 7, four days after the first strike in Ottawa. The dispute centred around starting wages, short-term disability and staffing issues.
Greater Victoria workers aimed to highlight quality service to the public and health and safety standards for workers amidst Canada Post’s modernization plans, said John Bail, national director for the Pacific Region for CUPW.
“That’s the theme of the Victoria pickets,” Bail said.
“There’s no need for their concession demands,” he added, quoting the $281-million profit Canada Post had in 2009.
Despite a monopoly on letter mail, Canada Post reports a 17 per cent decline in the volume sent in the last five years.
“People don’t send mail anymore and, in fact, many of the mass mailers are switching over to online services,” Canada Post spokesperson Anick Losier said.
On Monday, Canada Post rejected CUPW’s counter offer to the corporation’s latest collective agreement. Canada Post did not agree to the terms – a decision Losier said was based on the the high cost in a market where private companies are now competing for business.
“Our volumes that were already on the decline are tanking, literally,” she said. “We’ve seen a 50 per cent decline in the past week. On a normal day we would do 35- to 40-million pieces of mail, now we’re half of that and even lower.”
Adding to the “serious revenue crunch,” she says, the Canada Post pension plan faces a $3-billion deficit.
Last fall, restructuring resulted in the loss of 30 clerk positions at the Victoria processing plant on Glanford Avenue. Mail from the plant is now sent to Vancouver for automated sorting and sent back to Victoria. Canada Post maintains job security is included in the current negotiations between chief negotiator Denis Lemelin, national CUPW president and Canada Post’s Mark MacDonell.
Meanwhile, Bail offers little assurance that a general strike won’t soon be on the way for those who do rely on the service.
“We decide our strategies on a daily basis,” he said. “There are no guarantees.”