Canada Post: Reckless path to privatization

Veteran postal worker LOUIS LANG, former president of the Ottawa Local of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, exposes how Canada Post is continuing to squander postal assets.

BARELY A MONTH HAS PASSED since postal workers were forced through blackmail and coercion to accept severe rollbacks and concessions. Under the threat of federal legislation and facing final offer arbitration, postal workers voted 57 per cent in favour of accepting a contract that imposes a two-tier wage and pension system, loss of sick leave benefits and many other rollbacks in work rules, all of which are designed to facilitate the exploitation of workers. The new contract also imposes a lower wage increase than the last offer made by the corporation during negotiations and a wage freeze in the final year.

The ink was barely dry on this contract, signed December 21, 2012, when Canada Post launched a new attack on postal workers. On January 15, the corporation announced that letter processing will cease in Windsor at the Walker Road plant. Instead, all letter mail originating in or destined for Windsor will be sent to London to be processed by the new generation Multi-Line Optical Character Reader (MLOCR) and returned by truck to Windsor for delivery.

According to the announcement, the Windsor plant will handle only parcels and Direct Marketing mail (magazines and circulars). The changes are to take effect on February 18. There are approximately 185 inside workers at the Walker Road plant and the new measures are expected to eliminate 140 jobs.

The job security clause in the contract is supposed to protect workers from layoffs so Canada Post is proposing to eliminate jobs through attrition. Some workers may also be forced to take jobs at postal installations within a 40 kilometre radius.

There is no information about these changes on the Canada Post website but a spokesman for the corporation stated, “These changes are driven by the fact that mail volumes have been in a steep decline for the past six years, a trend which is expected to continue.”

The same statements about drastic drops in mail volumes were used during the last round of negotiations to justify attacking the wages and working conditions of postal workers. The claims, which ranged from a 25 per cent to a 17 per cent drop in mail volumes, were never supported by facts. The yearly financial reports of the corporation show fluctuations in mail volumes that correspond to recession and recovery in the economy.

For example, the severe decline in the economy in 2008 caused a dramatic reduction in mail volumes. But this was temporary. As soon as the economy began to recover mail volumes increased. In fact 2009 and 2010 showed a steady increase in mail volumes and Canada Post was forced to admit that mail volumes during the 2010 Christmas period were the highest seen in several years.

It is clear that mail volumes have nothing to do with post office closures. Back in 2005, when mail volumes were increasing year over year, Canada Post sent a written notice to the Canadian Union of Postal Workers that it was reviewing the national network, including all mechanized mail processing plants, and that the Quebec City plant would be reviewed first. Within several months, Canada Post announced it was closing the Quebec City plant.

After a fight of several years by postal workers and the people in the Quebec City region, including hundreds of municipalities that passed motions and sent petitions to the government opposing the closure, Canada Post closed the Quebec City plant and mail from the region is now sent to Montreal to be processed. This closure, with the loss of 302 jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy, was one of the first parts in the corporation’s overall plan to rationalize the workforce by centralizing letter mail sortation. New plants were built in Vancouver and Winnipeg and the new generation of MLOCRs were installed there as well as in the huge new existing plants in Toronto and Montreal. The corporation is implementing its plan to cut back and close more postal plants and concentrate sortation across the country in those four main plants.

The decision to move mail processing from Windsor to London is part of that plan. The same thing is happening at the Ottawa mail processing plant, which is twice the size of the Windsor one. Even though Ottawa has nine MLOCRs, which were recently installed as part of Canada Post’s Postal Transformation, the mail that would normally be processed there on weekends is being trucked to Montreal. The Ottawa plant was also sorting mail from communities in the surrounding area — Kingston, Smiths Falls, Brockville and as far west as Peterborough, but now all this mail is being sent to Toronto. Canada Post prefers to keep its MLOCRs idle in Ottawa in order to implement its plan and prepare the way to close the Ottawa plant. Similar plans are in place for Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Canada Post claims that closing mail processing plants will not affect service standards, but nothing could be further from the truth. We have the experience of Quebec City and other centres where mail is being trucked hundreds of miles to be sorted and then returned for delivery. One does not have to be an expert in the organization of mail processing to realize that this method inevitably leads to delivery delays, confusion and misdirected mail. Because the sortation takes place so far away, any mail that is mis-sorted or needs to be redirected ends up going around in circles for days.

The people in Windsor will face the same problem. Along with the other changes in delivery service imposed by Postal Transformation, service to the people will be seriously disrupted. But clearly Canada Post is not concerned with service. When this absurd system makes it impossible to meet service standards, the corporation simply changes the standards.

The closure of post offices is driven by the desire for maximum profits. By reducing the workforce and concentrating production the corporation has totally abandoned its obligation to provide a public postal service and is preparing the way for its ultimate goal which is to privatize postal services.

The latest attack against postal workers in Windsor is also an attack against the people of Windsor who are being told that their right to an affordable postal service that meets their needs does not count, as far as Canada Post is concerned.

Closure of Windsor Post Office

CUPW Rally to Oppose Closure of Sandwich Town Post Office

Saturday, January 26 — 1:00 pm

In the Hurricanes parking lot at Sandwich and Mill in Sandwich Town,

Windsor, Ontario

Organized by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers

In addition to moving letter mail processing from Windsor to London, thereby eliminating 140 jobs, Canada Post has announced its plans to close The Olde Sandwich Towne Post Office located at 3201 Sandwich Street in Windsor.

Canada Post is going through the motions of holding public consultations on the plans — a notice was posted in the Post Office’s windows stating that no final decision will be made for 30 days to allow for consultation with the community. But past experience has shown that the decision has already been made.

The corporation has made it clear in the past few years that an important part of its corporate plan is the closure of an unspecified number of retail post offices. This plan amounts to nothing more than the privatization of the Post Office’s retail network.

In 2012, after many closures in previous years, about 530 retail Post Offices remained. The CUPW contract protects 493 of these at this time. In spite of the demands of the Union and the hundreds of municipalities that have passed resolutions and taken up petitions, Canada Post has accelerated its campaign and closed more than 20 large and small retail offices in the last twelve months.

This is leading to the further deterioration of postal services for the vast majority of Canadians and the elimination of hundreds of postal clerk positions.

* * *

The modus operandi of the corporation has become all too familiar. Canada Post has pursued a campaign of selling postal franchises to large drug store chains and other private retailers. These franchise outlets are opened in the vicinity of established Post Offices — sometimes just down the street — and compete for sales of postal services. Canada Post managers reduce the hours of operation of their own retail Post Offices making it more convenient for customers to use the private franchises. Other measures, such as parcel and express post pick-up, are used by the corporation to undermine the service provided by their own retail Post Offices and favour the private franchises.

This inevitably leads to reduced revenues, and then we are treated to a spectacle like Windsor, where the Post Office spokesperson is trying to justify closing The Olde Sandwich Towne Post Office, which has been serving people in the area for many years. The building itself is a historic site built in 1905.

The spokesperson has the nerve to say that Canada Post has no choice. “Daily traffic has been dropping every single year … sales have been dropping at the same time,” he says and then provides assurances that services will not be affected because there are four other Post Offices within five kilometres of each other in the area. The spokesperson does not bother to explain that these are the very private franchises that have put the Post Office on Sandwich Street out of business.

Pretending to carry out public consultations within these circumstances is the height of hypocrisy. Contrary to Canada Post’s claims, this is not “modernization” or “postal transformation.” This is the destruction of the public post office.

Postal workers and the vast majority of Canadians, working together, are the only force which can stop the Harper government and its postal managers from squandering these valuable assets that belong to the people.

Source: TML Daily, January 25, 2013 – No. 8

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