The Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) has long been known for its strength and militancy in the labour movement. When CUPW was formed in 1965, they led an illegal strike of postal workers across the country that won the right to strike for the entire public sector. It was the largest illegal strike of public sector workers in Canadian history. Since then, CUPW has led the public sector in the struggle for better wages, working conditions, and rights. In 1981, CUPW was the first civil service union to win the right of maternity leave, pointing the way forward for the rest of the public sector. But many rank and file activists are today wondering what has become of our union. Postal workers are now working without a contract after our collective agreement expired on 31st January. Though we were all expecting a big fight, it appears our national executive isn’t up to it. They have (narrowly) recommended a tentative deal to the membership. This was immediately met with resistance from the rank and file, and a “No” campaign has swept the country.

What is at stake?

For years, postal workers have seen their workloads increase. Day after day, letter carriers are forced to carry excessive amounts of junk mail, and inside workers are told to sort more mail in less time. The old days of letter carriers finishing their routes and getting off of work early are long over. Long hours and forced overtime are now the norm. This crisis has been artificially created by Canada Post. Short staffing and use of temporary workers is undermining the basic rights of postal workers. This situation is now reaching a breaking point.

Workers are fed up. Signs of stress and over burden are everywhere. The amount of on-the-job injuries is increasing at an alarming rate. Instead of attacking the route causes of these injuries, Canada Post instead chooses to attack the rights of injured workers. They have even gone so far as to hire a private company to harass injured workers into returning to work early. There is a growing recognition that if we do not stop this now, the future will be even worse.

But the collective agreement that has been recommended to the membership by the National Executive Board does nothing to address these problems. In fact, the maximum size of flyers we deliver will be increased. The wage increase is only slightly above the inflation rate and this contract would force us to carry on as-is for another four years. This is quite simply not an option for most postal workers. We have been pushed to the limit and we will not take this lying down.

The contract even contains concessions in retirement benefits. The corporation wants to increase the minimum years of service before receiving retirement benefits by five years. This is a targeted attack against the many workers they have hired in the last ten years, who are approaching retirement age.

But the worst aspect of the deal is a clause called the Corporate Team Incentive (CTI). This is a productivity based bonus scheme that is designed solely for the purpose of cutting jobs. The company will set productivity targets and if they are met, workers will receive a 3% bonus at the end of the year. Louis Lang, president of CUPW’s Ottawa local explains the problem with the CTI:

“The fact is that at Canada Post, like every other corporation, all the profits, all the wages paid, all the facilities and property of the corporation, in other words the entire functioning of the corporation is made possible by the value which is created by the workers in the functions which they perform. When we ask for a wage increase or an improvement in working conditions or benefits, all we are asking is that a small portion of the value which we have created be given back to us for our benefit.

“The goal of the corporation on the other hand is to seize and control as much of the value produced by the workers as possible, giving the bare minimum back to the workers. This is why the interests of the corporation and the interests of the workers are always diametrically opposed. The corporation is always trying to fool the workers into taking up their agenda to try and get the workers to sacrifice some of their demands for the ‘survival of the company’; this is just another way for the corporation to control more of the value which the workers have created.

“The productivity bonus (CTI) is just such a plan. By including it in the contract we are conceding to the corporation that the value that we have produced belongs to them to use as they wish and we are also agreeing that the corporation has the right to impose any conditions they wish before the workers receive any benefits from the very value which they have produced. This is far worse than any quality of work life program which the corporation has tried to impose in the past and which the union has always opposed. It is no wonder that the corporation is so determined to have this in the contract – it eliminates the very basis on which workers put forward their demands for negotiations and the end result will be to pit worker against worker under the pressure of the productivity bonus.”

This scheme would pit worker against worker, competing for a bonus. It is particularly insulting considering it stands in violation of CUPW’s constitution which states that the union will oppose such measures.

Leadership Divided

There is no one in any elected position in all of CUPW that can defend the CTI. It is universally seen for what it is: a strategy to divide and conquer our union. But somehow, a majority on the executive voted to recommend it. How strong was this recommendation? The vote at the national executive board was actually tied – seven in favour, seven opposed. The chair broke the tie.

The majority on the NEB has been forced to argue against the CTI, but at the same time, they recommend the contract anyways. They argue that Canada Post is set on having this in the contract and this is the best we will get. We beg to differ!

The rank and file of the union has been gearing up for a fight. We are prepared to walk the picket line. But our leaders have agreed to a deal without even putting any extra pressure on the company. There were meetings held across the country to vote on our main bargaining demands, but these have been largely ignored. We didn’t even take a strike vote to send a stronger message to the corporation. It is no surprise that half of the executive board thought we could do better and voted against this deal.

Vote No!

Following the announcement of the deal, a “no” campaign has sprung up overnight. One by one, local executives are voting to oppose the deal. Local executives, representing over half of the CUPW membership, have now voted to recommend that their members vote this contract down. The list reads like a list of Canada’s major cities; Calgary, Ottawa, St John’s, Toronto, Vancouver, and many more have all come out against the deal. There are still many locals that have yet to issue a recommendation, but so far the results have been overwhelming.

The priority of the “no” campaign must now be to mobilize and educate the membership. Bulletins should be put together to counter the ones coming from the national leadership. Committees should be formed in every CUPW shop to organize the campaign amongst the rank and file. Only by uniting the more advanced activists with the rank and file can we mobilize the membership against this contract. The only people who will benefit from this contract are the bosses. It’s time we send a message to both Canada Post and our leaders. We will not accept a contract that doesn’t address the problems we are facing every day.

No to the CTI! No Concessions! Vote No!