CANADA POST ERRATIC BEHAVIOR AIMS AT ELIMINATING CLAUSES IN THE WORK CONTRACT WHICH THEY SAY ARE TOO RIGID AND CONSTRAINS CANADA POST IN ACHIEVING FINANCIAL VIABILITY.

Today Sunday August 25, 2013.

Dear Nader,

Sunday Greetings!  I am very proud and happy to resume the work of writing the Sunday e-mail.  As you know, the Sunday e-mail has developed into a fine news bulletin that provides timely information to both the Ottawa local executive committee and to the workers at the OMPP.  The Sunday e-mail proudly highlights the just struggles that postal workers are waging everywhere for their rights.  It also raises very important issues of concern to us all and promotes discussion on those issues amongst everyone.

Just before taking a three week break due to the summer holidays, the Sunday e-mail extensively discussed the question of article 54 of the work contract and management’s “duty to accommodate”.  It brought out the numerous problems facing the workers here at the OMPP since management adopted its new policy in this regard on May 13, 2013 just a day after the implementation of the last staffing realignment.  This staffing realignment saw the flagrant violation by management of our seniority right as the sole criteria to follow when filling positions something which is strongly stipulated by article 13 of the work contract, thus setting a precedent for the future.

Aside from that specific Sunday e-mail, a report was also written in the same week to the attention of the local executive committee regarding the overnight wrecking by management of four of our work stations in the short and long section of transaction mail.  This wrecking was carried out in complete disregard of the work contract and with utter contempt for the union and the workers when management introduced a technological change automating all of the functions involved in directory and short paid work.  In the course of implementing this technological change, management did not provide any notice of such a change to the union or to anyone else including the first line supervisors responsible for the section.  It merely contented itself with having Process Engineering issue a Change Alert bulletin dated a day prior to the change which was neither posted nor placed in the order books.

CANADA POST ERRATIC BEHAVIOR AIMS AT ELIMINATING CLAUSES IN THE WORK CONTRACT WHICH THEY SAY ARE TOO RIGID AND CONSTRAINS CANADA POST IN ACHIEVING FINANCIAL VIABILITY.

This erratic behavior of Canada Post management while highly condemnable is not at all  surprising and is consistent with what it has been advocating for over a decade now “that reducing costs at Canada Post requires time and is not easy given the complexity of the business and restrictive labour contracts.”

For Canada Post, the work contract is an impediment towards achieving financial viability something it wants to accomplish at this time through increases in productivity brought about by the modernisation project and the introduction of technological changes which they say will serve to further increase profitability for the corporation.  It claims that 69% of its total operating costs are labour costs.  This includes wages, benefits, pension contributions and other contractual rights governing the working conditions of postal workers and the relationship between the union and the corporation.  Cutting labour costs has become the primary concern of the corporation in its quest for increasing profitability.

According to Canada Post, postal transformation is not an option that can be deferred.  It is at the heart of its plans to attain financial self-sustainability and profitability.  Canada Post has estimated that the new capital investment required for its modernization plans is in the order of $3 billion spread over from 2007 up to 2014, in addition to the $200 million on average that is spent on regular infrastructure maintenance annually.

Canada Post has argued that it has a one-time opportunity to initiate such transformation as 27,000 postal workers are expected to retire or to leave the corporation within this time frame.  In order to deal with the situation, it predicted that staffing adjustments would have to be made on a regular basis since the corporation would not be replacing the retired workers.  The remaining workers would simply have to do more of the work with fewer people.

In a submission to the Strategic Review of the Canada Post Corporation entitled “Canada Post:  A Blueprint for change” which was held in 2008, Canada Post recommended to the Advisory Panel, “that the Government of Canada undertake to break down the operating rigidity that constrains Canada Post, a third party should be appointed to review the CUPW collective agreement to lay out what changes would be required for the company to move toward a more competitive situation.  Transparency is an important tool to change culture.  Therefore, this report should be part of the public domain so that the distance between what is permissible under this agreement, and what is necessary to be successful in the future, is an important consideration of the upcoming round of collective bargaining”.

This statement was made in preparation of the 2011 round of negotiations between the CUPW and Canada Post Corporation to renew the 2007 work contract.  The 2011 round of negotiations was a fierce one.  The workers launched rotating strikes as a way to resist the corporation’s demands for important wage and contract concessions.  This was followed by Canada Post locking out all of its employees even though the union had been following all the rules and regulations set out by the Canada Labour Code.

Collective bargaining abruptly came to an end as Deepak Chopra, Chief Executive Officer of Canada Post relied totally on the Harper government to use its majority in the House of Commons to initiate back to work legislation.  You will remember at the time Minister of Labour, Lisa Raitt and the other members of the Harper regime claiming that a work stoppage by postal workers, even though legal and well within the confines of actual Canadian labour laws, constituted an impediment to the economic recovery and thus had to be outlawed and criminalized.

To the capitalist class and its representatives such as Harper and the proponents of the neo-liberal agenda, workers should have no claims on the tremendous added value they produce in the course of their work and they should have no claims either onto society that respects a modern definition of rights and provides the working class and their families with rights by dint of being human including rights to culture, education, health and so on.

These neo-liberalist forces see collective bargaining and collective agreements as creating obstacles to the flexible adjustment of enterprises, as a source of labour market rigidity which they say have a negative effect on efficiency.  This neo-liberal view is what is pushing the Harper government to adopt precedent setting anti-worker, anti-union and anti-social legislation such as the ones that we have seen adopted during the last parliament.

The following are excerpts from Canada Post’s submission to the Strategic Review of the Canada Post Corporation which was written in 2008 entitled “Canada Post:  A Blueprint for Change”:

“We Need to Change Our Culture”

“Canada Post’s culture has developed over the course of our history, dating back to the days of being a government department. It has been, and is today, influenced by a number of internal and external factors – unions, federal public servants, political representatives, suppliers, customers, competitors and management. The result is a great company with numerous achievements and much potential. But some of these forces have led to a culture that holds us back from meeting our full potential.

Even if we make investments to transform Canada Post and are given the flexibility we require to be financially self‑sufficient, we will not reach our full potential unless we change our culture. Breaking through the cultural barriers that exist today will require strong will and effort on the part of Canada Post and others. We are recommending action that will bring external discipline to the cultural forces at play and help open a path to positive change.

Our internal operating culture is defined by the collective agreement with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), our largest operating union. The agreement is uncompetitive and rigid. It is weighed down with clauses that prevent us from making changes to improve our customer focus and our efficiency. History has shown that we will not be able to make significant change to this agreement through the normal cycle of bargaining. We need the environment to be set in a way that helps ensure a significant shift in approach – to one that would allow us to better meet our customers’ needs and secure our financial position.

The Government of Canada should appoint a third party to review the CUPW collective agreement and table a public report on its competitiveness. It should also signal that it expects the next round of collective bargaining with the CUPW, in 2011, to result in changes that will ensure both excellent postal service and the financial sustainability of Canada Post.”

“But full and complete engagement of our people in the success of Canada Post is hampered by numerous operating rigidities perpetuated through complex and stifling collective agreements that have developed as a result of more than 40 years of very public negotiation and arbitration processes. The collective agreement with our operating employees has its roots in the days when we operated mainly as a monopoly in a protected market. This agreement can no longer enable our success, given the pressure we face from competitors with much more flexible agreements that give them an immediate and significant operating advantage.

The CUPW agreement – at 553 pages in length, including 56 articles and 34 appendices – is one of the most complex, rigid and constraining collective agreements in all of North America. The article used for resolving disputes between parties is 25 pages long and contains 106 clauses. This is unheard of in other collective agreements. The CUPW agreement is very inwardly focused. It has no view to the customer, service or quality. It contains a substantial number of cumbersome and inefficient restrictions. These restrictions can both limit the quality of our service and our ability to implement change, and they shape the culture on the floor of our facilities. For example:

  • Individual work measurements – Canada Post cannot measure the work of an individual to determine productivity.  Canada Post can only measure the work of a group to obtain an objective evaluation. This makes it very difficult to manage unproductive employees.
  • Seniority – This is the determining factor for staffing at retail counters, rather than by the more appropriate standard of measuring an individual’s suitability for working directly with the public. In addition, frequent movements due to bidding based on seniority create training and team-building challenges.
  • Technological change – Canada Post is required to give a 120-day notice prior to implementing any technological changes. Anything can be deemed a technological change.  In a recent CUPW bulletin, the union stated: “Article 29 in the urban operations collective agreement contains the best language on technological change found in any collective agreement in North America and possibly the world.  What is important about the language in the urban operations agreement is that changes in work processes are covered, whether or not they result from the introduction of new equipment”.”

“Such restrictive work rules make it almost impossible for the Corporation to improve customer service or productivity. Our productivity gap compared to others in our sector is large.”

In December 2008, the Advisory Panel of the strategic review reported to the Minister of State (Transport), Rob Merrifield and supported the proposals of Canada Post.  It recommended that “the government pursue Canada Post’s suggestions to review the impact of current labour arrangements from the perspective of their impact, positive and negative, on the long-term sustainability of Canada Post.”  It further wrote: “In a similar spirit, the Panel supports the idea of an employee share ownership plan, as a way to heighten employees’ involvement and ownership of the process of modernization”.

IT IS THESE IDEOLOGICAL CONSIDERATIONS WHICH ARE DRIVING CANADA POST AND ITS LOCAL MANAGEMENT TO WREAK HAVOC EVERYWHERE within the workplace going as far as to even create precedents while the work contract is still in effect.  This shows the utter contempt Canada Post has for the union, the workers and the overall dignity of labour.

The constant staffing realignments which have eliminated over 71 positions in Ottawa alone in a period of just eight months along with all the contractual violations taking place at the plant, whether they be regarding articles 11, 13, 54 and 29 just to name a few, are all features of the recklessness of an employer hell bent on destroying the post office as an important part of the Canadian infrastructure so as to hand it over to private interests.

The “Postal Transformation Initiative” to create a so-called modern post at a cost of well over $2.5 billion is also based on a capital-centred outlook in opposition to a human-centred outlook.  Canada Post reported that the projected savings of this initiative would result in approximately $350 million per year once the plan is completed in 2014.

Note that since 1995 to 2008, the Corporation has produced 13 years of consecutive profits and more than $1 billion paid to the Government in the form of revenue from taxes, dividends and return of capital.  Canada Post as a consolidated revenue of $7.5 billion and contributed over $6.6 billion in real Gross Domestic Product in 2007 alone.  These figures can be found in Canada Post’s submission to the strategic review.

In a letter to Pierre Poilievre, Parlimentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities and for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario, dated May 7, 2013 Denis Lemelin, national president for the CUPW wrote a fitting condemnation of the minister for his comments in the House of Commons during the Parliamentary Discussion on Implementation of Omnibus Budget Bill C-60.  Bill C-60 provides for the intervention of Treasury-Board in contract negotiations at Crown Corporations on the basis that “the Crown should not levy any money without grant of Parliament”.

In the course of that discussion, Poilievre had suggested that the Post Office and its workers do not produce value and do not contribute to the economy and the public treasury.  He said that Canada Post and its workers and other public sector workers are a drain on the public treasury and therefore should not have the right to negotiate their claim on the value they produce or on their working conditions.

In his letter to the minister, Lemelin reminded him of the facts contained in Canada Post’s submission to the strategic review that in the period 1996-2012, Canada Post was profitable every year except for 2011. During that time, the net income taxes paid to the government amounted to $486 million and an additional $589 million was paid in dividends. “No taxpayer money was ever used to fund postal operations except for what was necessary to finance public policy programs such as mail for the blind and free mailings for members of parliament such as yourself”, he said.

The minister’s statement in the House of Commons on that day amounted to disinformation and was vigorously condemned by all progressive forces in Canada. This was indeed a capital-centred outlook which started with the conception that postal services to the Canadian people and postal workers themselves are a cost to the owners of capital, to the Corporation and in this case, to the government.

A human-centred outlook would have recognized the necessity to deliver first class postal services to all Canadians from coast to coast to coast.  It also would have recognized the necessity to develop modern industrial relations that uphold the dignity of labour as a matter of course and which affirms that workers are not a cost of production but rather create added-value to the society, and does not permit this added-value to be seized as private profit by anyone.

Postal workers must say No to the wrecking activities of Canada Post! And say Yes to a public post office for generations to come!

In Solidarity,
Danielle Desormeaux
hoffddesormeaux@gmail.com

*For your information, a hard copy of the report concerning the wrecking by local management of the four work stations in the short and long section of transaction mail has been sent to the Ottawa local through the mail so that it can be filed as part of the local correspondence.  The report was sent with a recommendation that the local executive committee immediately file a grievance on behalf of all the workers at the OMPP against management for violating article 29 of the work contract.

Feel free to add to the discussion.