By David Bush
The negotiations between Canada Post and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers have been underway for over eight months. The two parties are far apart on a number of issues: pay equity for Rural and Suburban Mail Carriers, the introduction of two-tier pensions, improving the short-term disability plan, and improving working conditions for letter carriers – to name just a few.
These issues are extremely important for both CUPW members and the entire labour movement. The ability to achieve pay equity for the predominately female RSMC workforce and the defeat of a two-tier pension plan would be significant victories.
In true Orwellian fashion, Canada Post responded by saying CUPW’s proposals would cost $1 billion dollars. This crooked math counts the loss of expected savings from the rollbacks as a cost.
One of management’s proposed rollbacks flying under the radar is the elimination of a provision in the collective agreement requiring Canada Post to keep open a minimum of 493 retail counters staffed by CUPW members.
Management’s proposal would allow them to potentially eliminate every single public post office in the country. This would eliminate roughly 1200 decent jobs, many in smaller communities that are struggling with a lack of local public services and abandoned by the private sector.
Management would love to replace the remaining public postal outlets with low-wage contracted-out postal outlets currently found in places like Shopper’s Drug Mart, Rexall or some convenience store chains.
Back in the 1980s, Canada Post, with the full blessing of the Mulroney government, introduced a plan to privatize and contract out public postal retail operations. Over 5,000 rural and urban postal outlets were to be closed or privatized in the 1980s and 1990s. Many of the urban retail outlets were contracted out to businesses like Shoppers Drug Mart.
Since then, Canada Post has shut roughly 1700 rural post offices and that number is set to rise. This process saw good public sector jobs transformed into low-wage, insecure work. It also gave these large private corporations lucrative contracts.
The privatization of Canada Post’s retail network continued unchecked under the Liberal government of Jean Chrétien. The only thing preventing the wholesale privatization of the urban retail stores was CUPW’s collective agreement.
But privatizing post offices goes beyond the devastating loss of good jobs. If Canada Post management gets to close the more than 500 urban publicly-owned postal outlets, it will put a wrench in any plans to transform and expand Canada Post’s services.
Those wanting to see Canada Post implement postal banking, or offer public wifi, or become a leader in the green transition by installing electric charging stations, should be deeply concerned.
Canada Post still has the largest retail infrastructure in the country with more than 6,000 post offices. Most of these postal outlets are franchises or rural post offices staffed by members of the Canadian Postmasters Assistants Association. Privatized postal outlets will be much harder to transform into a postal bank for instance, than those already owned and run by Canada Post.
The loss of these 500 publicly-owned urban and small town post offices would make the ability to expand and offer new services more unlikely.
Management’s push to get rid of these post offices comes in the middle of the federal government’s review on the future of Canada Post. If it is accepted that Canada Post can (and probably will) privatize retail outlets and sell off postal offices in the future, the true scope of the government review will be limited.
Instead of the current debate between expanding Canada Post services and public ownership versus management’s privatization and cuts to services, we will end up debating how fast management’s vision is implemented.
There are many important issues on the negotiating table. Surprisingly, management’s desire to change the rules to make it easier for them to close every urban and small community public post office has not garnered much attention.
That’s too bad, because it just may end up being the issue that defines the future of our postal system.