In just over three weeks, 190 postal workers at a single Mississauga plant have tested positive for COVID-19—reflecting yet another failure by Canada Post’s management to protect workers’ health.
Labour Fightback spoke to a worker employed at the site of the outbreak: the Canada Post Gateway Processing Plant, in Mississauga.
There, the worker said, despite management promising COVID precautions, COVID cases have risen steadily as sick workers returned to work in cramped and fast-paced facilities.
While Canada Post says it regrets the positive cases, management refuses to allow workers to slow down and take the precautions they need to protect their health. This is the same Canada Post management that showed utter indifference to rising numbers of “disabling injuries” while workers were forced to hurry through their shifts—pushing workers to strike in 2018.
Parcels and packages aren’t worth workers’ lives. Canada Post’s management has demonstrated time and time again it is more than willing to suffer workplace casualties to cut costs. During an ongoing pandemic, it is no exaggeration to say this can and will have fatal consequences.
Given the negligence of management, it falls upon the workers to take matters into their own hands through the organizations which represent them.
The Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), for example, represents the overwhelming majority of workers on the shop floor at the Mississauga Gateway plant.
On Jan. 23, 2021, Canada Post announced 350 afternoon shift workers would be sent home for a 14-day isolation period as a result of an order from the Peel Public Health Authority.
While the CUPW leadership has managed to secure quarantine pay for workers while they are in isolation, this is not enough. From the beginning, they should have been demanding that mass testing be implemented across all shifts, and that the facility be shut down completely as the outbreak progressed. To back these demands up, they should have (and should continue to) prepare the workers for job action, including an escalating series of work refusals, until all of these demands are met.
Labour Fightback (LF): Where do you work?
Worker (W): I work at the Gateway Mail Processing Plant in Mississauga, ON. It is the crown jewel in Canada Post’s mail sortation infrastructure. I’ve read that two-thirds of all the mail in the country makes its way through our plant.
LF: Have you been receiving an increase in wages since the start of the pandemic, any sort of hazard or danger pay?
W: Hazard or danger pay, no.
LF: Do you feel enough has been done to prevent an outbreak of the virus?
W: When the first few cases arrived [in April], [management] performed deep cleaning in a timely manner swiftly after finding the cases. I do think more preventative measures should have been taken. Management has provided masks to all employees and has communicated to employees to please socially distance. They merely told us to do it and then washed their hands of actually enforcing it, assuming we’d all taken on the personal responsibility spontaneously. The seating in the rest areas has been reduced and distanced. This is what the plant management’s approach to handling the virus looked like in the first few months.
Additionally, the plant management began issuing “talk tracks”, which are typed-up case-by-case communications issued to team leaders. The talk tracks cover which shift the positive cases popped up in, which day, whether the employee was asymptomatic, etc. I can tell you that I have certainly not been informed of every case. Of the 121 cases between Jan. 1 and Jan. 20, I’ve been informed of maybe 60, and I likely won’t be caught up on the others through these talk tracks retroactively. If someone caught the virus among your close coworkers in your department, you ought to be notified so you can exercise even more caution, know which rest pods to avoid, etc.
LF: How do you feel that Canada Post has handled the outbreak?
W: What pisses me off the most about the way they’ve been handling this whole ordeal is the way the talk tracks have been an outright cover-up. Without fail, every single talk track we have received, from the very first case right up to this big outbreak in mid-January, has communicated the very same copy-pasted buzzwords, such as: “due to the safety measures we have in place, it will be safe to continue to work.” How does any sane-minded person read that and not become overwhelmed with the urge to violently rip up the memo? In the same breath that they tell us that case counts in the plant are on a sharp incline they have the audacity to tell us that this workplace is still safe?
As cases started to ramp up in the plant in the second wave, the same measures persisted. More recently, we received a reassurance from management that they would take extra measures. Namely, they hired extra security personnel to “screen” entrants into our facility at each entrance. What this looks like in practice is that a shy security guard holds up a clipboard, asks you how you’re feeling and if you’re experiencing any symptoms. If you feel like disclosing how you feel in detail you may let the security guard know. If you don’t, and you’re in a rush to get to your station for shift start, don’t sweat it! As you can imagine, most people just say “good morning” or “good evening” and walk on by.
The most recent measure taken is an on-site mass testing program. My understanding is that, in the initial rollout of this program, the entirety of the staff on shift three is tested. Once that phase is done, the program will extend to the rest of the shifts. This is a great initiative, but its rollout was unfortunately late in the game.
In addition, making their high-risk employees jump through some serious hoops to be granted high-risk leave was pretty low. I saw it happen in my own department when several older gentlemen, some with heart conditions and asthmatic, continued to show up at work, complaining that their boss didn’t accept their documentation or their plea.
LF: Has there been any meaningful consultation with the workers on how to keep the plant safe?
W: I don’t know if there’s a central contact person or committee or drop-box for suggestions from staff, but I think that could be a great idea to come up with creative solutions to curbing the spread. I’m sure with more people putting forward other ideas, we could work together and find more effective means to curb the spread. I think it is important to be critical, but even more important to offer alternative solutions. But our proposed solutions have to fall upon receptive and capable ears. And those ears must put our safety head and shoulders above operational and production demands—I can imagine the pushback we might encounter with any demand that seriously prioritizes our safety. No one should be deducted worked hours to ensure we can all be safe. Perhaps we could even extend the mass-testing program to the entrance security screening program described earlier as well.
LF: Anything you would like to add for the public to be aware of?
W: Some of the smaller plants in the region where there were also outbreaks had gotten closed. The only other workplace I can think of that has experienced case counts this high and that hasn’t been shut down is Amazon.
I firmly believe that if workers were given the reins over the corporation’s operations, we would curb and tailor our operation to fulfill its essential function, ensuring Canadians get their cheques, medicine, and other essentials in a safe manner for everyone. Our mail carriers don’t need to be out there needlessly risking their health, delivering the xenophobic Epoch Times of all things during a pandemic.