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Canada Post on Strike
Did you know Canada Post is on strike? The Canadian postal system shut down over a week ago. The United States is no longer accepting mail addressed to Canada. Who cares? In the age of text messages, email & a myriad of private parcel delivery companies to choose from - is Canada Post even relevant?
Canada Post is on Strike? Who Cares?
My seven (and a half) year-old daughter recently participated in day-long "Hands-Across the Border" event, where girl scouts (Brownies) from Canada and the United States traded goodies and celebrated at the near-by Peace Arch border crossing. Alex had obtained some nice "City of Nanaimo" and "Canada Flag" trader-pins from our MLA, Leonard Krog, when Rachel visited his office a couple of weeks ago.
"What's this got to do with the Canada Postal Union strike?" you might ask.
Well, Alex wrote a very nice, colorful, personal letter of "thanks" to MLA Leonard Krog and we took it down to the post box this morning to mail it. We couldn't put it into the outgoing mail slot, as it had been covered over with the Canada Post "closed" sign shown above.
"Oh, right," I told Alex, "Canada Post is on strike, so there's no mail delivery."
Sadly, MLA Leonard Krog will have an easier time finding his mail here, than he will finding it in his mailbox (an e-mail from his website will let him know that he can read his "Canada Post mail" here!)
This incident made me curious about the Canada Post strike. I know the Postal Union members have been on strike for a while and that mail delivery stopped over a week ago. But ... why are they on strike? If the strike doesn't affect me much, how many others don't care? How relevant is Canada Post in today's world of electronic mail, Skype, cell phone text-messaging, FaceBook, Twitter and private parcel services (e.g., UPS, Fed-Ex & DHL)?
Canada Post Strike 2011 - What it's About
The hypocrite in me thought that the postal strike was about the Union wanting more money. The hypocrite in me was - in general - correct. In a Globe and Mail article the author says the Canadian Union of Postal Workers wants a wage hike and management (the Crown corporation, which means "government-run") says it must slash labour costs, citing stats that letter mail has fallen 17% since 2006.
Despite the need to cut costs, Canada Post management has - as a concession - offered a two-tier system, according to a MarketWatch article by Bill Mann. Current employees would get top wage rates of $26/hour, job security, no reduction in their defined-benefit pension plan, medical benefits & a generous vacation leave - up to 7 weeks per year. New hires would start at a lower rate - $19/hour (way above minimum wage), rising to the same maximum, up to 6 weeks vacation & a defined benefit pension by age 60.
"Not good enough," says the Canadian Union of Postal Workers.
The Canadian Union of Postal Workers - Nailing Their Own Coffin
The Union is out of touch with reality and - ultimately - their members may end up paying dearly for it.
Firstly, there's the economy as a whole. The Canadian (and other) governments are facing an era of austerity. In the face of all of this belt-tightening, the CUPW demands don't make a whole lot of sense, especially considering the decline in postal services & letter-mail volume.
Secondly, while postal strikes have been successful in the past (yes, Canada has had many over the years: 1968, 1974, 1975, 1978, 1981 and 1997 was the last) times have changed. And not just a little - they've changed A LOT!
Since 1997, the world has gotten online. Broadband Internet has penetrated the majority of Canadian households (over 80%, according to Statistics Canada - 2009 data). Internet means electronic mail replacing snail mail, electronic billing replacing mailed bills, cash transfers instead of written cheques and the proliferation of private parcel delivery services to meet the demand of online shopping.
The 1997 postal strike was bound to be far more crippling than the one this year. Heck, I get mail so infrequently that I probably open our community mailbox less than once a month.
From a personal point of view, I find Canada Post an irrelevant, antediluvian and bureaucratic service. No mail delivery on Saturdays. Mail delivered to a community box and not a personal mailbox. Frequent break-ins and theft of mail from our community boxes. High cost to mail letters to the United States. Cheaper postal rates for packages headed to Florida than to the Maritime Provinces. Oversize packages not dropped off on our stoop, in favor of a postal outlet 8 kilometers away. Requirement to show ID to pick up packages at that postal outlet. Mail returned for minor addressing "infractions". The list goes on.
"And the Postal Union wants WHAT?" I ask.
This in the face of cut-backs, declining services, declining mail numbers and a huge ($3 Billion) pension obligation? The Postal Union's strike is unpopular and out of touch with reality. They may just be pounding nails into an already closing coffin. The strike will simply motivate more people to sign up for electronic payments, e-statements, online billing options, email and use more private parcel services.
The Postal Union is simply driving away the very customers they're going to need, moving forward. Short-term gains for Union members? Perhaps. Losing sight of the big picture? Definitely.
Bottom line - If Canada Post Union members are paid more than - and have better benefits (i.e., bankable sick time, generous pensions, more vacation time & extended health) than - employees working at competing, private companies ... how can Canada Post compete?
UPDATE: 27-Sep-2011 - On the other side of the border, Mark Roberts, an economics professor at Penn State wonders, "Can the United States Postal Service Survive?"
Run as a "quasi-governmental agency", mandated to be "revenue-neutral", hampered by political-motivated financial obligations (pay $5.5 billion for future health benefits of 'career employees') and running yearly deficits ($9.2 billion in 2011) and faced with increased competition and declining first-class letter delivery demand ... the future doesn't look too bright.