By Doug Nesbitt
Postal workers across the country are pressing Canada Post management to clean up its act. COVID-19 infections among postal workers have already led to the suspension of mail delivery in Newfoundland and most recently the closure of a mail depot in North Bay, Ontario.
In Edmonton, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers Local 730 has issued Canada Post management a formal set of expectations for them to meet. If management has not implemented the changes by Sunday March 29, postal workers will begin exercising their right to refuse unsafe work.
“It’s not a work stoppage,” explains Roland Schmidt, president of the Edmonton local. “It’s our right to refuse unsafe work.”
“The reason we haven’t done it already is because we take our role as an essential service very seriously. We want to help Canadian navigate the crisis but we become an actual contamination risk to Canadians if our work facilities are compromised.”
At the Edmonton Mail Processing Plant
Schmidt reports that Canada Post management says “all the right words” about worker recommendations for cleaning and safety, but upon investigation he says the conditions are “atrocious.”
Schmidt and the local’s health and safety officer, Rashpal Sehmby, investigated several facilities, including the massive Edmonton Mail Processing Plant.
“At our central processing facility, it houses 600 workers over a 24-hour period. We went to two different shifts. Over the six to eight hours we were there, we saw one cleaner milling around the facility, which is the size of about three football fields. So there isn’t proper cleaning done to the high contact areas where people are working. They are cleaning doorknobs and certain ledges, but not the actual place where the work is happening, and no proper sanitation is happening between shifts.”
There are several safety measures that management says are being implemented but are not upon inspection. Schmidt gives the example of the card-swipe login terminal which is used by hundreds of workers. Management says workers only have to swipe in and there’s no need to touch the terminal. However, Schmidt reports the terminal isn’t sanitized and a “no contact” swipe isn’t always the case. He even says that management is using “soft pressure tactics”, saying workers don’t have to swipe out, but might not get overtime if they don’t.
Schmidt and Sehmby’s presence clearly agitated management, and were threatened by management to have security throw them out of the plant. The threat came after they informed workers about their rights to refuse unsafe work.
“Picking the dollar figure over human care”
According to Schmidt, local management also reversed a March 16 assurance to all temporary workers that leave would be extended to them if they had to self-isolate. After calling them out in a CBC interview, Canada Post’s spokesperson John Hamilton claimed otherwise, but Schmidt still says there are instances of this happening.
“This is one of those things where I understand it costs money, but if we’re serious about curbing a pandemic and making sure Covid doesn’t break out in the postal facility, you gotta incentivize people to do best practice. Canada Post is once again picking the dollar figure over human care.”
management is on the same page with the union, measures such as decongesting
work spaces is failing. Almost every Edmonton-area Canada Post workplace is
over 50 workers – well above Alberta’s new maximum gatherings rule of 15
“The union’s recommendation was for letter carriers and RSMCs [Rural and Suburban Mail Carriers] was to split up into four waves,” explains Schmidt. “So if you had 80 people in a facility, they’d be broken into four waves of twenty people. Those groups would have an hour and half to prep their delivery and leave. There’d be no overlap with the other waves. So we give them [management] that and they say that’s a great idea. Then we get feedback from the floor that it’s not being implemented properly at all,” reports Schmidt.
“It’s one of these things they could solve in a day but why’s it taking up to a week to do?”
Sanitizing kits and cancelling non-essential mail
The Edmonton union local is also recommending sanitation kits for every high-contact work area, including vehicles. The kit would include disposable gloves, rags, and a bleach/water solution spray bottle.
“After an area is used, a new person can come in, put on the fresh gloves, sanitize the whole area and do their work and when they’re gone, the next person comes in and does the same thing,” says Schmidt who believes this kits would cost very little.
“These provisions are important because contamination is inevitable in the post office. The preventative measures we take now will be the difference of how much the mail stream gets contaminated, and how many people are impacted.”
Without proper measures, Schmidt says letter carriers will “unknowingly transmitting to the community in the process.”
This is why the union local is calling for all non-essential products to be cancelled, notably business flyers, or “ad mail”. Rankandfile.ca has already reported that postal workers are still distributing business flyers to very single mailbox, raising the prospect of spreading and contracting COVID-19.
understand that ad mail is an important revenue stream for Canada Post and
under normal circumstances it represents job security for our members,”
explains Schmidt, “but right now the pandemic takes priority. We want people in
facilities as little as possible and going to as few contacts outside as possible.
“Typically you would have to deliver a flyer to a house on your route even if you didn’t have mail for it. That’s an unnecessary risk of contamination to so we want to eliminate that as well.”
Taking back the workfloor
“As far as what Edmonton’s doing, we’re using all the tools at our disposal.” In speaking with Rankandfile.ca, Schmidt emphasizes the importance of meticulous local and workfloor organization in getting Edmonton postal facility standards improved and to prevent what has happened in Newfoundland and North Bay.
“We’ve been sending out daily emails. We have about 80 percent reach to our 2,300 members in the local. We’ve been on the work floors getting all that contact information. So we’ve really been taking people each step of the way. Every time we have a meeting with management, we share that information. We show what management is saying and the discrepancy with what’s happening on the floor, and using that to leverage more developments.”
Schmidt says it’s not about having one leader. He says the local has spent the last nine months putting hundreds of members through workplace activism training called “Taking back our workfloor.”
“The union office doesn’t have any power, but when we’ve had pushback on the floor, that’s where we’re seeing movement.”
“If we’re going to empower the union it’s going to be from the workfloor up, and that can’t happen if there’s not a deliberate strategy to give people those tool to fightback. You can never really prepare for something like this, but the reality is all the tools that we had been practicing have been essential for us in putting pressure on Canada Post.”
When it comes to leadership and guidance, Schmidt says “the solution is in-house.”
“You have each other. Support one another where possible.”
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