On Work And Struggle At Canada Post – A View From A Postie

2013-12-11T194533Z_2122628947_GM1E9CC0ADZ01_RTRMADP_3_CANADA-POSTBy Mike Palecek

I remember my first day at Canada Post. I stepped into an elevator with an elderly letter carrier who proudly proclaimed that he had the highest seniority in the country. I have no idea if it was true. I told him it was my first day.  He laughed and said, “Don’t worry. It’ll be rough at first, but they say the first forty years are the hardest.”

He was still laughing when I stepped out of the elevator and watched him disappear as the doors closed.

Rough? I didn’t think so. After all, I had just finished a two week letter carrier training course where the first words they said to us were, “Welcome to easy street.” I had been working construction before this. Surely this would be easier than hanging vinyl siding while standing on a plank suspended between two ladders three stories up with no harness.

When I told the crew at work that I had landed a job at Canada Post, everyone shook my hand. Congratulations all around. They all believed I had just landed the best paying, easiest job on the planet. I had won the lottery. I remember one carpenter told me about a letter carrier that he knew who delivered the odd side of the streets one day and the even side of the streets the next, so he never had to work more than four hours. Of course, it didn’t take me long to realize that these stories were just urban legends. I delivered to a lot of streets, but not Easy Street.

I had actually taken a pay-cut to come work at Canada Post.  I made more working construction. But I knew Canada Post was stable, whereas the construction business goes up and down. I knew they had benefits, and paid vacation, things that don’t exist in the construction industry in BC.  It would be nice to work these famous short hours. Turns out those didn’t exist either.

The next two years as a term letter carrier, I worked long hours. Never less than fifty hours a week. I worked eighteen hours straight my first Christmas Eve at Canada Post. I volunteered for pre-shift overtime, which meant I started at four a.m. Then I got sent to a different station to cover one of the worst routes in the city for the day. I didn’t finish until ten o’clock at night. I didn’t mind. The overtime was nice. I could have turned back when it got dark, but I felt it was my duty to get the mail out. I knew I was carrying lots of Christmas presents. I was wearing a Santa Claus hat.

The truth is I was proud of my job. I was proud to be a letter carrier. I was a mail man: an iconic part of Canadian society.  I would walk into the elementary schools on my route and I would always see a young child pointing at “the mail man.” I cared about my customers.  My job was important. And that was the culture that they tried to instil in us. We had it drilled into our heads in letter carrier training that our number one priority was customer service. But letter carrier training was a fantasy land.

The supervisors were assholes and they treated us like the enemy. Upper management was too busy fighting the class war to worry about anything else. It was surreal. I had organized unions before. I was an activist. I became a shop steward the day I passed my probation period, even without a permanent position.  Still, this environment was unlike anything I had ever encountered. They had lost all sense of perspective. It was like getting the mail out was a secondary task – something they had to do so they could get back to the real work: sticking it to those union guys.

Really, “those union guys” were one of the reasons I kept applying at Canada Post. I was proud to be a letter carrier. And I was proud to be a member of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. I knew their history. They shook the Canadian government to its very foundations. Many of the rights workers have today are a result of struggles led by the posties. I knew that without CUPW we probably wouldn’t have maternity leave and the public sector wouldn’t have the right to strike among other things. They had the reputation of being the toughest union in the country and I knew that’s where I belonged.

That was eight years ago. I’m still one of the “new guys” by most people’s standards. Yet so much has changed since then – so much and so little. The focus on customer service has disappeared completely. Management is entirely focused on crushing the union. They don’t care if they destroy themselves in the process – in fact, that is the goal. We’re working for a corporation whose leadership is trying to destroy itself. They want to gut Canada Post and hand over the infrastructure to the private sector. Prime real estate in every city, thousands of delivery vehicles, the largest retail network in the country, the list goes on. Canada Post is a tempting target for these neoliberal vultures intent on looting the public sector.

And they can’t accomplish that without first destroying that iconic public image of the smiling letter carrier going door to door, without destroying the public service we provide.

Two years ago, members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers saw it fit to elect me as a National Union Representative. To me, this is a great honour, of course. But it is also a great challenge. It is once again up to us to defend the public post office. The past struggles of CUPW are legendary in the Canadian labour movement. We must now rise again to the challenge posed by history. It is time for CUPW to lead the fight in turning the tide against the right-wing austerity drive. We will defend our postal service and we will run these crooks out of office.

Mike Palecek is a National Union Representative with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers.

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11 thoughts on “On Work And Struggle At Canada Post – A View From A Postie

  1. I too have been all my life working in other sectors until I turned 40 and decided to pursue my dream job of becoming a letter carrier. I also see the “us” and “them” attitude between upper management and employees. I also see our union fighting to keep employees who use the union to their every advantage to avoid doing the job they have been hired to do.
    I have made lifelong friends by being their mail lady. children are born and grow up, beloved pets and other creatures I interact with every day. I love my job and my customers and judging from the tips I continue to receive, they love me. but the difficulty physically of doing my job is nothing compared to what the harper govt is attempting to create. we are being “americanized” in a fricken hurry. I, for one don’t need this added burr under my pack mule back

  2. Pingback: On work and struggle at Canada Post: view from a postie | NB Media Co-op

  3. Nice letter but just words. The workers are still wondering when the high union dues will pay off and we actually get representation from all levels of CUPW and not just talk!!!!!

  4. I can relate to the stories-proud when I becam a letter carrier, loved the attention from the kids, l strive to serve the public and very proud to do it. Made tons of friends, human and canine/feline alike. Although there are many downsides to this job, seeming to not please everyone, long hours of hard work in all kinds of weather and a government who says our unemployment rate is too high yet trying to show us the way to the EI line.

  5. I whole heartedly support the comments of our national CUPW president, Mike Palechek and the feelings we all harbor about the goal of management to “break” the union. What’s needed from CUPW is a add campaign publishing the bonuses of our CEO, Deepak Chopra and Vice Presidents in a year no worker received anything. monetarily but praise in a circulated letter. Clearly, the current Liberal government asked Mr. Chopra to voluntarily resign like so many other (Harper appointed) CEO’s of crown corporations. Mr. Chopra refused and wants to finish his vision of a completely altered Canada Post which is only profit driven and ignores the many employees who make it so. Unless there is real change at the top the prospects of fairness and reasonableness in negotiations won’t occur.

    1. I refuse to moderate my comment as it speaks to the excesses of executive officers appointed by a past government no longer in power but still impacting the plight of workers. The greed begins at the top and impacts all aspects of work culture in the organization.

  6. The letter carrier job at Canada Post is a horrible job thanks to management. You will be used, abused, and ultimately discarded.

    I started working at Canada Post as a term not long ago. The first thing supervisors said to me was “never bring back any mail or you will be interviewed”. As a relief worker, I was placed on a new route every day. When you are doing a new route, you need to learn everything, including where to park and where the businesses or mailboxes are located. I was overwhelmed by the volume of mail, flyers, and parcels, and I worked for 10-14 hours every day. I never returned any mail.

    Then one day, the supervisor came to me and warned me that I could be interviewed for doing too much overtime. I asked him if I could return the leftover mail after 8 hours of delivery. He replied that if I did that, then I would be interviewed. He asked me to do the job faster.

    Then I started working even faster. Rushing to finish the route sooner, I incurred two injuries. First I injured my leg, then I injured my back. I reported the injuries, but never claimed any benefits or wished to be placed on modified duties. I always returned the next day.

    Not long ago, my back injury flared up. My doctor told me that I have issues with the spinal discs. The day I told the supervisor that I may not be able to deliver the mail due to horrible pain in my back and leg, management called me to the manager’s office and turned on me. They told me that my plan was to extort money out of Canada Post and that that won’t be possible as “the Corporation has its own doctors on staff”, and that “I won’t get anything” out of them.

    I was very surprised and deeply disturbed at this reaction. In reality, I only wanted to go home because I was in pain. I never wanted to file a WSIB claim or be placed on modified duties. I just did not want to further aggravate my condition. After all, my personal health is a far greater priority than Canada Post.

    As a new employee (a term), I was made to sign a form that said my injury was not an “Injury on Duty” and was sent home without pay.

    The Corporation makes you carry more than 3000 flyers plus mail in your satchel and then when you develop any issues, they discard you like a bad merchandise and get fresh blood to replace you. CPC will break you and discard you. It doesn’t really matter that they pay $19/hr for new hires. This money is not worth it.

    This is the status of our labor rights in 21st century Canada.

    My advice for new hires at CPC, take care of yourself first.

  7. So sad and horrible Daniel. I’m so sorry. I am a new LC too with similar experiences you are describing. It’s really overwhelming & stressful!! I have broken down in tears many times. *sigh* 🙁

  8. I started Sept 1 as an RSMC but I really wanted the LC position. An opportunity came up and I am about to start LC school. I am already overwhelmed with the way things work around here and nervous about starting as an lc. I think I have to put up with this craziness for 3 years ish and hopefully get my own route. I don’t know if it’s worth it though.

  9. Hello everyone, I am a City Letter Carrier in the United States and I am planning on moving to Canada. I really do appreciate ya for writing this information because I wanted to know was it different in Canada, but what it sounds like is the same thing happens here in the United States as it does in Canada. It’s just all crazy because the Post office really do want everyone to feel as though they care about the public and customers and little do they know they don’t. I don’t know if ya have this problem but out here you will have customers complaining about missing parcels and mail and went they talk to the supervisors, they ensure the customers they will get to the bottom of it and call them back and nothing happens. You will have customers talk to you and it will be somewhere from 2 weeks to months after they complained and the issue is still not resolved and then the customers look at you crazy for their mis-doing or someone else’s mis-doing and they do not get on that person who did it, they get on you to figure out what happened. Or on days of coverage, one person doesn’t do it and lets it accumulate, then you have to go out there and deliver 3 or 4 coverage’s because the supervisors didn’t get on that person but still want you to be back in 8 hours or less. Also, our start times fluctuate, do ya start times fluctuate too? Daniel I know exactly what you are going through, I’ve had injuries as well and they do treat you different after you say anything about it. Overall, I love being a carrier! I love helping people and seeing the smiles on people faces when you give them the mail and provide them with great customer service. It’s just so sad that the upper management really don’t care for the people they say they give service too.

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