© Herald photo by Matt Gardner
Canadian Union of Postal Workers Local 810 president Jason Ripplinger delivers mail on Thursday. The elimination of certain area mail routes as part of delivery cutbacks by Canada Post could put a number of local jobs at risk, Ripplinger warned.
Planned delivery cutbacks at Canada Post could threaten the livelihoods of almost a dozen area mail carriers, according to a local union leader.
Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) Local 810 president Jason Ripplinger acknowledged that the elimination of routes may put jobs at risk.
“We’re figuring we may lose 40 per cent of the routes here,” Ripplinger said. “We have 26 full-time routes and three part-time ones, so we’re probably looking at a loss of at least 10 to 12 routes in Prince Albert.
“That’s 10 to 12 jobs where these guys make a decent wage … I’m not too sure when they get rid of those 10 routes what’s going to happen to those 10 guys at the bottom.
“Either they’ll be laid off, which they say they’re not going to do … or they’ll be offered jobs somewhere else.”
For some workers, he noted, packing up and moving might be easier said than done.
“These guys (have) got families,” Ripplinger said. “They’re not going to want to move.”
Canada Post this week announced 11 centres across the country that will begin collecting their mail at community mailboxes in the fall, as the Crown corporation moves to end door-to-door delivery over the next five years.
The change stands to affect large parts of Prince Albert, since community mailboxes are presently concentrated in the east end of the city.
Ripplinger estimated that community mailboxes constitute 75 per cent of his present route, extending from Marquis Road to the railroad tracks near 15th Street. Private mailboxes, meanwhile, still reign in neighbourhoods west of 15th Avenue East.
Canada Post spokesperson Jon Hamilton defended the transition to community mailboxes at the one-third of Canadian households that still receive delivery to their doors.
“Community mailboxes have been a reality across Canada for 30 years,” he said. “We first started installing them in the late 1980s and have been servicing millions of Canadians ever since.
“Anyone that has a rural mailbox at the end of the driveway or … a box in the lobby of (their) apartment or condo building or seniors’ residence, or already has a community mailbox, will see no change as a result.”
Delivery to businesses will be less affected, with door-to-door delivery still planned for business districts. Hamilton argued that businesses tend to receive more mail and send more parcels, and it therefore makes sense to continue delivering to them.
The emphasis on businesses, however, was another point of contention for Ripplinger, who noted that the government primarily consulted members of the business community before announcing the changes.
“They didn’t consult with the public at all to see what the public’s reaction would be -- probably because it would have been so negative that they didn’t bother consulting the public,” he said.
“So really, they just went to businessmen around the city to see what their needs were and they didn’t really go to the public to see what their needs were … They’re not going to bother coming to you and me. They just wanted to know what the business community wanted out of them.”
Making the case for cutbacks, Hamilton said that the core business of Canada Post -- delivery of letters, bills, etc. -- has been in “freefall” for years.
He pointed to long-term projections suggesting that the postal operator could face losses of $1 billion per year by 2020 if it fails to control costs through sweeping structural changes.
CUPW representatives disagree. Ripplinger noted that Canada Post has turned a profit in 16 of the last 17 years -- with the only exception being in 2011, when the company locked out its unionized workforce.
“That’s usually what the union clings to,” Hamilton said in response.
He added, “When you’re planning for the future, you sometimes have to let go of the past … The reality is, we’ve been able to keep our head above water over the last few years by reducing our costs.”
Given those public concerns over cost-cutting, CUPW representatives have questioned the concurrent awarding of lucrative bonuses to Canada Post CEO Deepak Chopra and others in top management positions.
We’re probably looking at a loss of at least 10 to 12 routes in Prince Albert … I’m not too sure when they get rid of those 10 routes what’s going to happen to those 10 guys at the bottom. Jason Ripplinger
While precise dollar amounts have not been made public, Ripplinger reported hearing from CUPW that salaries and bonuses for senior management at Canada Post amount to approximately $10 million per year.
“That’s quite a bit of money,” he said.
Hamilton, however, said that as the size of the post office shrinks in the coming years -- with 8,000 projected job losses primarily in larger centres such as Vancouver, Toronto and Winnipeg -- the size of its workforce will also shrink.
“We’re one of the largest employers in Canada,” he said. “So we need to be leaner going forward, and that will be an effort that will happen from top to bottom right across the company.”
Though some opponents have raised the spectre of the privatization of Canada Post, Hamilton said that was not the government’s mandate.
“Our mandate is to serve all Canadians and do so in a way where we don’t become a drain on the taxpayers, and that’s our focus,” he said.
But Ripplinger remained skeptical.
“They’re always going to say it’s not their mandate, but they’ve tried privatizing us before and they’ll try it again,” he said. “I believe that they’re going for a privatization of their business.
“I mean, there are things that come out in the mail that kind of makes the union shake its head.”
As an example, he cited letters that recently went out to households across Prince Albert encouraging people to do their banking online.
“When you're trying to increase business and get more business, how does that make sense to tell people to go online and pay their bills, switch to online banking?” he asked.
“It doesn’t make any sense. It just seems like this corporation has set itself on self-destruct, and maybe that’ll be the first step towards privatization.”
As Canada Post continues to roll out delivery cutbacks, both sides are preparing to fight the battle for public opinion.
While the government plans to work with communities to explain the changes and ensure a smooth transition, CUPW Local 810 is readying its own strategy.
“In the near future, we’ll be out and about collecting signatures and bringing out these flyers, going door to door, stuff like that,” Ripplinger said.
“We've even thought about going into a couple of the malls and we’re going to ask the managers of the malls if they wouldn’t mind us setting up a table and collecting signatures on a petition or something like that.”
The intended recipient of such a petition would likely be Prince Albert MP Randy Hoback, who last month voted down an NDP-sponsored motion in the House of Commons to preserve door-to-door delivery.
“He wants door-to-door delivery to end,” Ripplinger said. “Now, whether he’s just listening to his leader or whether he himself believes that this will save Canada Post, I’m not too sure. I haven’t talked to him yet.”
One option Ripplinger ruled out for the moment was strike action, since any strike by postal workers would be illegal under current legislation.
Even as CUPW plans to wage a campaign against the changes to Canada Post, Ripplinger noted the possibility for future events, such as an expected federal election in 2015 and the renegotiation of the urban operations contract in 2016, to affect the final outcome.
“If the Conservatives get another majority, this might push all the way through,” he said. “If it goes back a minority government or somehow the NDP or the Liberals are elected to lead, this might go away.
“That’s kind of my perspective on it, and I’ve heard that from a lot of other union presidents and union activists as well.”