Sorting through the
rural mail dilemma
Raise your hand if anyone understands Canada Post’s recent decisions about rural mail delivery.
Rural residents from Fredericton, New Brunswick, to Newmarket, Ontario, have had their mail delivery moved from nearby mailboxes to community boxes or post offices miles away.
These folks are not happy. Most of them have had home delivery for decades. Some cannot easily make the trip to the new location.
Equally worrisome are how rural residents will face similar challenges in the coming winter months unless Canada Post and the federal Conservatives do what it takes to solve the rural delivery dilemma.
Here’s the problem. Some rural mail carriers have recently used their right to refuse unsafe work under the provisions of the Canada Labour Code. Their health and safety concerns include increasingly dangerous roads and repetitive stress injuries caused by reaching out passenger windows to put mail in rural mailboxes.
Canada Post’s reaction was to stop delivering mail to thousands of rural homes and instead pepper rural communities with “community mailboxes” that swell their profits.
This means that rather than fixing unsafe conditions, the corporation has set up community mailboxes that may pass danger on to residents.
Rural mail carriers want to provide rural communities, where many of them grew up, with home delivery.
But they want to do it safely. It takes extremely dangerous conditions for rural workers to stop servicing the communities they belong to and care for: So what made rural routes more dangerous besides more cars driving faster? Why all of a sudden?
Before January 1, 2004, a rural postal worker was a contractor to Canada Post, not a unionized employee.
Canada Post could either ignore a contract worker’s complaint about dangerous work or say they would find someone else to take the contract. And that’s what they did.
In June 2004, Canada Post told rural drivers to stop driving on the shoulder of the road with oncoming traffic while delivering rural mail.
The Canadian Union of Postal Workers agreed. After all, it’s dangerous.
In January 2006, Canada Post told rural drivers to stop getting out of their car while delivering rural mail or face discipline. CUPW disagreed but was ignored. This rule changed everything.
Picture the work now. Rural mail carriers have to stay on the right-hand side of the road, remain in the vehicle, park, undo their seatbelt, shimmy across the front seat and it’s obstructions (including the stack of mail they have to deliver), role down the window, stretch to reach the mailbox, roll the window back up, slide back over the obstruction, buckle up, drive six metres and do it all over again no matter what the weather.
Picture Tim Hortons suddenly making everyone drive up and order from the passenger side window. Now picture doing this hundreds of times a day.
Why have rural workers complained in some communities and not others? Safety complaints have been clustered around Fredericton, NB, Newmarket, ON, Dorion-Vaudreuil, QC, and there have been a couple of refusals in British Columbia.
That’s because Canada Post doesn’t enforce its standards consistently. A boss in Mount Pearl, Newfoundland, doesn’t manage the same as her counterpart in Dauphin, Manitoba, and in Saskatchewan it’s still legal to drive on the wrong side of the road.
So the West and the North may be quiet for now, but what if a Terrace, BC, worker gets disciplined for getting out of her vehicle to deliver mail and suddenly there are 300 safety complaints in BC?
We had better come up with national but locally-customized solutions quickly. CUPW is working with Canada Post to make sure that happens.
Canada Post has to do a yearly review of all routes anyway. It could take some of the $199 million in profits it made last year and use them to make rural routes safer.
Or the government could give back some of the $440 million in dividends Canada Post has paid it over the past 10 years to preserve as much delivery as possible to rural residents.
Many of the solutions are simple. The dangerous areas along any rural route can be made safer through steps like: moving mailboxes further away from danger zones; letting drivers safely get out of their car again; using dual-drive vehicles like the kind used in driving courses or right-hand drive vehicles like those used in the US; decreasing speed limits, and so on.
With more than $1 billion in profits for the past 11 years, Canada Post can afford some of these options, especially with a legislated mandate to break even financially, expand service and develop good labour relations.
Our public post office seems to be overly focused on making money rather than doing the job it was created to do — serve the public.
Canada Post has also made no clear commitment to rural residents who have lost delivery. And it doesn’t help that the federal government has said virtually nothing about what it intends to do — a silence heard loud and clear throughout rural Canada.
Deborah Bourque, national president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers