Salt Spring’s Canadian Union of Postal Workers rural mail couriers went on strike on Thursday and Friday.
The Ganges and Fulford post offices remained open, but mail was not delivered until after job action was halted at midnight on Friday.
Jessica Dempster, president of CUPW Local 850 in Victoria, said, “Our goal is not to shut it down completely. Our beef isn’t with the public. We want to disrupt the service and put pressure on Canada Post, but we want to still let the public know that this isn’t about taking away their mail service.”
Post office workers are part of a different bargaining unit from couriers, and did not comment on the strike. A protocol was established to ensure that office workers are still able to carry out their duties, since they are not part of a legal strike action.
Rural mail service couriers were told to strike starting at 8 a.m. on Thursday, and told to continue until instructed otherwise.
Negotiations for contracts for urban carriers and rural and suburban workers are continuing. Dempster said that gains have been made for rural carriers, but those were through arbitration, not negotiation.
On Wednesday, CUPW received a proposal for an agreement from Canada Post which included pay increases and a signing bonus for new employees. The proposal was time-sensitive and expired at midnight on Saturday. However, according to the CUPW website, the proposal was lacking when it comes to key issues.
“We’ve been negotiating for a year and virtually no movement has been made,” Dempster said. “For [rural and suburban mail carriers] in particular, this job action is very important. They currently get paid significantly less than their urban counterparts. They don’t get paid for all of the hours that they work . . . That’s really the big issue for carriers on Salt Spring Island for sure, just getting them up to equality with their urban counterparts.”
Canada Post wrote in a press release that they have been “working hard to minimize the service impact to Canadians, but the union’s strikes continue to cause unprecedented backlogs in our delivery network.”
This is the second time that Salt Spring postal workers have gone on strike this year. They were among the first group called to strike on Oct. 22. The strike lasted one day before service was restored.
“We want to continue to provide the service, it’s just that we’re at point with the negotiations with the corporation where we’ve tried everything . . . . mediation, conciliation . . . all of those things have been tried. Nothing’s working. That’s why we’re doing the rotating strikes,” Dempster said. “It’s just coming to a point where we need them to make some changes.”
An update from Canada Post on Monday said that it is unlikely that the situation will be resolved for the foreseeable future, including through the holiday season and into the new year. CUPW called on Canada Post to return to the bargaining table to negotiate a settlement on Monday, rejecting Canada Post’s proposed “cooling-off” period through the holiday season. The period would be followed by binding arbitration if a solution is not found by Jan. 31.
“With all efforts exhausted to restore operations while the labour dispute continues, Canada Post is advising commercial customers and Canadians that mail and parcels in or entering its network will have long and unpredictable delays before being delivered,” the Canada Post notice read.
The postal strike also has the potential to affect the electoral reform referendum, as the primary instructions on the ballots are to mail them in to Elections BC. Though the referendum does not end until Nov. 30, delivery of completed ballots may be slowed due to backlogs in the Canada Post system.
Rebecca Penz, a spokesperson for Elections BC, explained that “if there’s a mail stoppage that is going to impact people’s ability to participate in the referendum then we would extend deadlines and we would communicate that with the public.”
Ballots can also be dropped off at the Service BC office in Ganges at 343 Lower Ganges Rd. to be sent by courier to Elections BC.