Postal Strike, Postal Service, and going Postal

Toronto, Ontario, and all of Canada may soon be hit by postal strikes.

The postal union position seems straightforward:

  • Rural workers (often female) should make as much as urban workers (often male.)
  • New hires should get the same pension (defined benefit plan) as old hands.
  • Doubtless more money would be nice.

On their website, the Canadian Union of Postal workers mention a few other things (as at this writing, sites change, eh? As usual, emphasis mine:

It is evident that the management of Canada Post has forgotten that Canada Post is not a commercial enterprise but a public service for all Canadians. Mr. Chopra spoke of the 400,000 businesses that were his “customers.” He did not mention the 35 million Canadians who have a right to decent postal service.

Canada Post managers declared that negotiations discussions were off-limits but then proceeded to use this platform to try to justify cutting pensions for the next generation of postal workers.

Mr. Chopra praised the work of Canada Post’s employees whose hard work generates the money.  Cutting future employees’ pension, trying to lock us out and stalling at the negotiating table is no way to thank us, Mr. Chopra.

There is some small substance to the claim that management of our postal service pays more attention to commercial customers than domestic recipients of mail. The top item on their website, as at this moment, includes this: (click to ‘see more’ on their site)

Canada Post can no longer guarantee a fully operational network; therefore, we are temporarily suspending the fee for the Specified Delivery Start Date option for Neighbourhood Mail.

I had to Google Specified Delivery Start Date. Bulk mail in an area can have a specified delivery start date. There is a fee for this, presumably for holding the bulk (junk) mail and releasing it on time. This fee is waived because a strike might make its service undeliverable (pun intended.)
Let me emphasize: the top item is for bulk mailers. Companies.

Those of you who bore easily can stop reading here. I’m going to provide a small comparison between Canada Post and the United States Postal Service (USPS.) The information comes from a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report which you can access, thanks to the Secrecy News project of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS.)

Service. USPS gives six-day a week mail and parcel delivery. Delivery standards were revised downward in 2012. Standards are often not met. What used to be guaranteed overnight (local mail) is not, not any more.
There is a suggestion to reduce mail delivery to five days a week. But not for packages. (As in Canada, business deliveries have management’s attention. It’s been so long since six-day delivery that my kids don’t believe it ever existed.)
As in Canada, actual service speed is crashing. (I once mailed a letter on Sunday and had the reply in my hand the following Thursday. Receipt for payment I needed that day. No way this can happen Au Canada today.)

Management. By moving workers from night shift to day shift, facility increases were required. Apparently the job bidding process is time-consuming. The logic behind this (in the referenced CRS report) escapes me. As does much of the management posturing in Canada.

Volumes. Letter volume is declining. Package volume is rising. (Same pattern as in Canada.)

Limitations. The USPS cannNot do non-postal work. This is not the case in the UK, where post offices do banking-like work. Such an extra revenue stream has been suggested in Canada.

Financial Situation. The USPS is about fifteen billion dollars in debt. It has never (in the charts shown, anyway) had more than thirty days of operating cash on hand. The USPS has defaulted on payments required into health benefit plans (which may be set up in a way that is irrational; read the full report for details.) The USPS ends every year with cash on hand, but always is borrowing. Its debt ceiling is limited by law.
So far as I know, Canada Post does not owe money.

Prices. Apparently, a good-forever international stamp costs a buck USD or so. Mail goes for something like forty-five cents USD. A lot cheaper than Canada. The USPS has strictly controlled prices and, through two court actions, was allowed a temporary surcharge to make up for a volume shortfall caused by the crash of 2008.

Canadian prices go up all the time. And we no longer have good-forever stamps.

Fleet. Mostly long-use vehicles (24 years) with an average age of 23 last year, the USPS needs new delivery vehicles.
In Canada, we purchased a new fleet of small vans for home delivery, and then announced we were transitioning to all homeowner-pickup delivery. This shift has been stalled by the new Liberal government under Justin Trudeau. However, reverting back has also been stalled by our Federal Government while ‘studies’ are done. We may be using our postal strike as an excuse to break an election promise.

Mandate. The USPS is mandated to deliver mail. It once was essentially a government agency; now it is mandated to cover its own costs. The fact that it cannot do this is generating a lot of heat and light, and now a CRS report so Congress will be informed enough to, perhaps, decide to change the rules or the playing field.

It appears that our American neighbours see their postal system as a business and then as a service, not as an essential service or natural right. In Canada, we don’t seem to know what we think. CP seems to think it’s a business.
We allowed new neighbourhoods to not-get home delivery, without a whimper. We allowed postal spokesfolks to tell us that the elderly would (I actually heard this said on TV) be grateful for being forced to go for a walk to get their mail. This for my neighbour, who can hardly cross a room, but should be rejoicing to be made to cross snowdrifts to get junk mail.
I don’t think the Federal Government is watching this very closely, as they are unwilling to interfere in what skunks might call a hissing contest. However, Justin Trudeau should, imho, have  the equivalent of a CRS report being built on the entire postal service, so his government can do at least a few sensible things after we go on strike. Like, fix the long term financing: is it an essential service? Should it be subsidized?

Conclusions (mine, of course, eh?)

  • Part of the strike is about costs. I think the Federal Government should fix this. (Take more tax from oil extractors and profiteering banks, and use it to fund the mail. Heresy, eh?)
  • Part of the strike is about pensions. I think that defined benefit plans should be (for all permanent workers, as minimum) available, incented, and that the Federal Government should run them. It’s never gone broke, eh? Just increase the deficit!
  • The Canadian Postal Service is cutting off its nose to spite its face. Several years ago, a postal strike caused this household to switch to telephone banking to pay bills. We have the usual household stuff: gas, hydro, water/garbage, phone, internet, cable tv, and taxes. Plus a handful of other bills, like credit cards.
    We pay all of these on the Internet today.
    We used to mail cheques.
  • Some of the CPS revenue comes from junk mail. My first visit to a pick-up mailbox will include putting a ‘no junk mail’ sticker on my slot. I’m not shuffling glossy fliers while wearing gloves and stomping the snow down.
    My neighbours already have ‘no junk mail’ on their mailbox lid. I checked: it’s legal and binding. No junk mail.
  • Part of the strike is about arrogance. I think Canada Post has a typical case of Big Business / Swelled Head. Like the epi pen price increase by the pharmaceutical manufacturer, reduced service with increased prices are seen as things that can be gotten away with. Charging more for less is seen as a right, especially when the product is not readily replaceable.
  • Part of the strike is about money. Salaries of the Canada Post head office staff, especially the top positions, would be nice to know. What they pay for advertising, lobbying, and contracted services should be part of Justin Trudeau’s audit.
  • Part of the strike is about equality. New hires versus old. Rural/female versus urban/male.

I’ve written the latter points as though I think a long and bitter strike is inevitable. Given the negotiation skills demonstrated to date, I think inevitable (can’t be avoided by the participants) is dead on.

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