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Canadian Media Fails to Deliver: Media Coverage of Canada Post Labour Dispute Uncritical, Inaccurate

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
Locked out CUPW members in Halifax. Photo by Lesley Thompson.
Locked out CUPW members in Halifax. Photo by Lesley Thompson.

On the morning of Tuesday, June 14, letter carriers across the country showed up to go to work as per usual but Canada Post told them to go home; no mail was to be delivered that day. Those workers are full-time letter carriers who deliver mail in our communities Monday to Friday.

While Canada Post claimed there was no work for the letter carriers, mail sat in the Halifax Canada Post plant, undelivered. Not even priority packages, which should be delivered by noon the day after they are shipped, were able to leave the facility. Indoor workers, who process and sort the mail were working – suggesting that there was mail that could have been delivered that day.

According to a twitter update from Ella Henry, a student activist in Fredericton, indoor workers were sent home after three hours of work, even though there was still mail to process. Fredericton workers had just come off a strike rotation, so the implication from Canada Post that there was no work for Fredericton workers, both indoor workers and letter carriers is difficult to understand.

Despite these circumstances, the local hourly CBC radio broadcast in Halifax told listeners that Canada Post workers “consider themselves to be locked out” all day. A CBC News headline online reads, “Union calls postal service reduction 'partial lockout.'”

The Canadian Labour Code states that a “lockout” “includes the closing of a place of employment, a suspension of work by an employer or a refusal by an employer to continue to employ a number of their employees, done to compel their employees, or to aid another employer to compel that other employer’s employees, to agree to terms or conditions of employment.”

Letter carriers showed up to work on Tuesday, and were told to go home because Canada Post decided no mail, not even mail that Canada Post guarantees delivery times on such as priority service, was to be delivered. This is very clearly a “suspension of work by the employer” and in the context of a rotating strike, very much “done to compel their employees… to agree to terms or conditions of employment.”

The workers were locked out by their employer, plain and simple. The addition of the caveat “consider themselves” casts doubt on a clear situation, and works in favour of the employer’s spin on the situation.

There are several complexities that reporters and editors may not be familiar with when it comes to labour reporting. For example, when the partial lockout occurred, the union representing the locked out workers, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), declared the locked out workers to be on strike. This is not because the workers chose to strike that day, but instead, by declaring those members on strike, the union was able to protect workers who were not locked out from being pressured or disciplined for refusing to do the work of their locked-out co-workers. It is the responsibility of reporters and editors who intend to cover labour issues to understand these issues in order to cover labour issues fairly and accurately.

This example, though, is just one small example of the corporate and public media’s lack of fair, critical, and accurate coverage of the labour dispute.

Prior to both the rotating strikes and the lockout, news sources reporting on the labour negotiations, repeatedly listed wages and benefits that Canada Post workers receive. At $26 per hour, a full-time worker makes about $54,000 per year. While this is higher than the median individual income of Canadian workers, it is well below the median household income of $68, 860. The sticking point has not been wages for current workers. The only place wages are concerned is in regards to implementing two-tiered wages – lower wages for new workers. These lower wages would see new workers paid about $10,000 less than the median Canadian income, and more than $30,000 below the median household income. We are talking about middle-income, stable, secure jobs. The kind of jobs that governments are arguing are necessary for economic recovery.

Many sources, including the CBC, have cited Canada Post’s statistic that mail volumes have fallen 17 percent since 2006. Overall, however, mail volumes have increased by 10 percent since 1997. Considering the worldwide economic recession that has been going on since at least 2008, it is understandable that mail volumes would be down. Also, the argument that more things are being done electronically needs to be examined. The internet has been around for a while now.

Also, there has been little to no investigation of why or how mail volumes are dropping. Are people using the mail less? Are people using other mail services? Has Canada Post lost contracts to private companies, or has it given contracts to Purolator, which it owns? Are all volumes down? It is very possible that letter mail volume is down, but parcel shipping is up (think about all the online shopping people do). Why isn’t the corporate and mainstream media looking into this?

Perhaps most frustrating is the incompatible arguments that on one hand mail is becoming irrelevant, and on the other, the disruption of the mail service has significant detrimental impacts on the economy. Canada Post and the Harper government can’t have it both ways, and I have yet to see a journalist take up this contradiction.

Repeatedly, articles have published that Canada Post has lost over $100 million during the labour dispute. This is a number that was put forward by Canada Post, and reporters have given no context for how the corporation arrived at that number. It seems that reporters have done little to question where that number comes from, how it was arrived at, and when those losses are from.

While rotating strikes presented delays in mail delivery, mail was still being delivered to the customer, something that postal workers were keeping in mind. While in a legal strike position, they could very well have held a nation-wide strike and stopped mail delivery all together. Instead, rotating strikes were implemented to balance the need to pressure Canada Post to bargain in good faith, and to continue to serve Canadians. Still, though, the corporate and mainstream media consistently repeated Canada Post’s rhetoric that service reductions, and the lockout were the fault of the union.

News sources have also completely failed to point out that workers who have been locked out are receiving no pay from Canada Post. Postal workers, like all Canadians, have families and bills and responsibilities and are being prevented from working by their employers. What is the economic impact of 48,000 workers being locked out? How much have workers seen in lost wages? What are workers doing to make up the lost wages? Are they borrowing more? Are they dipping into savings? Are bills being left unpaid?

Where is the corporate and mainstream media on all of these questions?

Deafeningly silent.

Kaley Kennedy is a member of the Halifax Media Co-op and is involved in Support Postal Workers, a campaign organised by people in Halifax to generate community support for postal workers. 


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Comments

Right On

I do not work for Canada Post but have been following the strike. It is about time someone told the truth about what is going on instead of just writing quotes. Obviously investigative journalism is dead. I have talked to drivers that work for Canada Post (but not in the Union) and have been told of how the mail was piling up before the strike, and even being routed to different wharehouses. All so Canada Post can say that mail volumes are down !!

 

If it was in the US the journalists would be all over this, trying to get to the truth. Here in Canada it is just he said she said.

A letter from CUPW

 

Negotiations Going Nowhere: CPC Waits for Harper’s Law

June 22, 2011

Since the introduction of the back-to-work legislation into the House of Commons, there have been a few meetings between CUPW, Labour Minister Lisa Raitt and CPC officials, including CPC President Deepak Chopra. Yesterday, CUPW submitted a very serious proposal designed to break the deadlock. Today we received CPC's reply. Essentially they made no significant moves and are maintaining 10 demands for major rollbacks, including the elimination of sick leave, lower wages and deep cuts in benefits and pensions for new hires. They did nothing to address the problems of postal workers. They did offer to make a move on the issue of percentage of coverage for letter carriers on the condition that we agree to further lower the wages of new hires.

Meet the New Boss

Since the introduction of the legislation, the messages from CPC have been inconsistent and contradictory. In our first discussion with Deepak Chopra and Labour Minister Raitt, we were somewhat optimistic that there might be a serious effort to negotiate. Mr. Chopra made a commitment that the terms of CPC's June 9th offer were still on the table. However, less than two hours later, at a meeting of the finance sub-table, CPC formally reduced their wage proposal for new hires to $18.00 per hour from the $19.00 contained in the June 9th proposal. Since then, they have put back their offer of $19.00. Will it change again?

Same as the Old Boss

From the very beginning of this set of negotiations, CPC has maintained a hard line position designed by former CPC President Moya Greene before she abandoned Canada Post to go to the UK and receive a million dollar salary to privatize the Royal Mail. After she left, Prime Minister Harper appointed Deepak Chopra to perpetuate their agenda of deep cuts to our benefits, pensions and rights.

Since then, CPC has refused to bargain, stopped all mail delivery by locking us out, and done everything possible to provoke back-to-work legislation.

We Won't Be Fooled

During the next days, we can expect CPC, the Government and the corporate media to mount an attack on postal workers and CUPW. They will say anything to try and convince you and the public that we are to blame for the breakdown of bargaining and the back-to-work legislation. But we won't be fooled. We know we did everything possible to negotiate a collective agreement that meets our needs and preserves public postal services. We entered these negotiations with a practical and modest set of demands, but we were met with a brick wall of corporate greed.

If the government and Mr. Chopra believe they can defeat postal workers, they are seriously mistaken. We will continue to demand justice for ourselves and others. We will continue to exercise all of the rights that we have under our collective agreement. And we will continue to fight for improved postal services to the public. We will continue to struggle for a collective agreement that is freely negotiated and ratified by the membership.

No Justice, No Peace. The Struggle Continues.

In solidarity,

Denis Lemelin
National President and Chief Negotiator 

 

Negotiations Going Nowhere: CPC Waits for Harper’s Law

HERE HERE !!! Shame on Mr. Harper's government & shame on Mr. Chopra.

 

perhaps you should check your

perhaps you should check your facts before you start commenting. the reason Canada Post had to borrow money for the "modern post" was because they raided the worker's pension surplus to "self fund" the "modern post", when the market turned the next year and there was a loss instead of the 5% gain they budgeted for  they tried to delay paying the funds REQUIRED by Pension law, they were denied the right to do this, then they tried to partially privatize  the post office to arrange funding and they were also denied the right to do this. what finally happened was the government had to get involved and in december 2009 Canada Post's borrowing limit was extended to $2.5 billion. Canada Post issued bonds that were guaranteed by the Goverment of Canada.

      there was an article written in the Financial Post in april 2008 warning that Canada Post was taking an unnecessary risk  by committing funds they didn't already have to the modernization plan when they could've rolled out the "Postal Transformation" slower (in pieces instead of all at once) and dealt with any job loss through attrition, instead they got caught short AFTER they'd signed leases and committed capital they didn't have.   

     Canada Post is a profitable company with mail rates among the lowest in the world (the US has lower rates but they're losing money while CPC is making money). they've turned a profit or 16 years (perhaps 17 but CPC won't release figures from last year) and actually pay a dividend to the government every year (rather they did until they started the "Postal Transformation")

     any privitization of the post office would leave smaller communities in our country vulnerable as  it's only in the large markets where the large profits are made that offset any losses from required delivery to smaller non profitable markets .

Truth or different spin

Unfortunately your article fails to realize that post workers are paid by their employer from profits.  No profits, no salaries.  Lower profits, lower salaries.  Is it not normal to expect the Postal Corporation to be a profitable company?  You may say they have turned a profit every year in the last 16 years but the profit ratio to sales is very low compared to the private sector.  The Postal Corporation had to borrow 2 billion dollars from Canadians to modernize its' equipment.   Had it been more profitable this would not have been necessary.  Their salaries are in excess of the median household income when you figure in all the benefits, vacation, pension, sick leave etc.   Salaries like this do not exist in the real world, only in union neverneverland.  If it was up to the union they would have twice the workers making twice the current salary.  All modern sorting equipment would be removed and workers would have 12 weeks of vacation a year.   

The best solution is to privatize mail delivery as soon as possible.

You're wrong about most of

You're wrong about most of what you say.  You are using half-truth's to support your side.  For example, Canada Post mail volumes are down 17%.  Mail volumes is just regular letter mail.  Similar reports show an increase in parcels, registered letters and admail.  Those last 3 bring in far more profit for the company than lettermail does.  Canada Post didn't "need" to borrow $2 billion from the government, they chose too.  This wasn't for maintaining equipment, but for buying brand new equipment that is part of a failing "modern post" system.

As for your claims of benefits, vacation time, etc on top of their income. equaling more than the median income in Canada, that's some poor logic going on there.  The median income of Canadians doesn't include those things, and I'm sure if you included the benefits that the management gets in companies (expense accounts specifically), you'd see median income would still be higher.

The real world involves many unions.  Most unions are for workers who work in the private industry, in case you haven't heard of Teamster's, the IBEW, the Steelworker's Union, and many more.

As for privatizing the Postal system, that would be as bad an idea as Alberta and BC's privatization of thir Telecom services was.  Much like Canada Post, those services provided money to the government.  That's right, a crown corporation that paid the government profits!  They privatize the successful corporations, and then they wonder why costs for services go up, and they have a new deficit.

Canada Post works because it is one organization that handles lettermail.  Do you think the system would be as efficient or cost-effective if there were ten companies across Canada transferring mail, and with their own workers.  You'd have 3 letter carriers or trucks instead of one, since your letter could come through any of the 3.  Not to mention they would increase costs a huge amount to cover the fat bonuses the new CEOs (more than one) would need to get out of less revenue, and to consistently grow their profits for shareholders.  Such a system for regular lettermail would be disgusting.

Canada Post doesn't work

Unfortunately it also appears that you are wrong of what you say. Canada Post doesn't work, you see it is currently shut down due to union strike action and has been countless times in the past decades.
CUPW fails to realize who pays their members salaries, Canadians, small to large business, etc. If they really understood that they would act more responsibly.
Due to this strike Canada Post will deal with lower and lower volumes of mail and parcels. Many will chose not to go back to Canada Post due to ongoing uncertainly.

to anonymous in Canada

Anonymous in Canada,

You're the one that's WRONG in what you say. Canada Post was shut down due to a LOCKOUT from the employer. The union started a rotating strike to try to put pressure on Canada Post and at the same time have as little effect on the customer as possible. Since negotiations began in October Canada Post refused the give and take required to negotiate and remained rigid in their demands until the end. The union offered from the start that workers would go back to work and continue to bargain in good faith but Canada Post refused because they already knew that the government would force back to work legislation. Canada Post trying to portray a company that is losing profits is only one lie they've told. If the corporation wanted to save money maybe they should cut the salary of the CEO who was appointed by the government and makes more than a half million dollars in salary plus 33 percent bonuses. I don't understand why all the hatred for unions. If it wasn't for unions in this country no worker would have a decent wage, benefits or pension. If it wasn't for unions the employer would have no reason to offer employees more. It was the CUPW union who went without pay for 42 days and fought for and won the right for maternity leave that ALL canadians enjoy today.    

finally

This is a great article.  Finally someone tells the whole story.

Thanks to the writer.

 

 

Labour press

I guess this is why labour had to have it's own completely independent journals and papers a century ago. Sorry if I sound all marxist, but you can't really expect anything else from the bourgeois capitalist media, right? Does VMC get financing from CUPW?

 

labour dispute

I've been watching cpac off and on and it's a very sad day in Canada when Harper can do whatever he wants. He continues to dodge questions and repeat the same things over and over again. People choose to believe what they want but the question you should be asking is Harper working for CPC as his wage demand for CUPW employees was less than the corporations last offer and he refuses to explain why. I thought this was a free country with free bargaining but I guess I was wrong. Harper has only been in power a short time and it seems like Canada is looking more and more like a dictatorship! The worse part is that this is only the beginning!

 

Employee and Union explanation

I support the postal workers strike but I think the Post employees should be doing more to explain why they are striking to the general public, who may have a tendency to just get annoyed by the interupted service and accept cynical explanations offered by mainstream media and Canada Post management. Why don't they deliver a a detailed letter to each mail box on their routes explaining why they are striking!? They are in one of the best positions of any union to make their cause heard - I at least have not received anything from the union or employees about their position.

Thanks for your support.

Thanks for your support. Letter carriers cannot deliver a unpaid letter of explination while on the job using equipment including keys to explain not a strike as you metioned above, but why they locked us out. Canada Post is in a better positon too give you a brainwashing explanation. 

Cannot?

If workers are legislated back to work, they should deliver propaganda while on the job or at least refuse to deliver government and corporate propaganda.  Once your rights have been violated, a proportional and relevant response is morally acceptable and necessary and defensible.

I absolutely agree.  The

I absolutely agree.  The public has become seperated from their Union brothers, but the postal workers have such a public face that they really could get support.  Take some people off of picket lines and get them delivering their side to everyone's mailbox.

Fantastic article

Fantastic article Kaley....this article should be sent to every newspaper in Canada. It is all so true.

Thanks for writing it.

Media 'miscoverage' of Canada Post lockout

If a few days of rotating strikes that did not include Montreal or Toronto allegedly cost Canada Post $100 million and the media obediently reported this, why is there no media curiosity and no Canada Post estimate of the cumulative losses due to Canada Post's total closure of the postal system?

And why has the media stopped interviewing "average" Canadians and business owners about their being inconvenienced by the total loss of postal service? These same reporters were turning over every rock looking for someone negatively affected by the rotating strikes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

Fantastic article Kaley. This

Fantastic article Kaley. This article should be in every paper in Canada.

Thanks for great writing

Finally a proper piece on the

Finally a proper piece on the situation. CBC News Network does a pretty terrible job. Reporters like Terry Milewski do a decent job, but the right wing young 'uns on "Power and Politics", especially Evan Soloman help Conservative fascist propaganda.

 

Thank god for someone on twitter pointing me to this piece!

 

Thank you!

I found a lot of what the media was saying, was really confusing. Thank you for making it clear. I was really baffled as to why the finger was being pointed at the workers. 

Another thing. Isn't cutting the wages of the middle-class hurting the economy more than anything? We can afford tax-cuts for large companies, which when I checked last generally already made a large amount of money. How would that "help" the economy? A rich person isn't going to spend more when they have more money. But you know who would? Generally speaking, middle-class people. Fuck the conservatives and fuck capitalism. 

Disinformation Distillation

Thanks so much for your blog entry. As a media consultant based in Vancouver I'm impressed at the level of disinformation the Canadian media has willingly regurgitated.

Below is part of an e-mail I sent to both Metro Vancouver and MacLeans Magazine after both quoted incorrect figures - twice, and in two different issues. (And MacLeans was informed they were in error because they asked if they could run my fact correction as a "letter to the editor" after their first error - and then decided not to.)

You seem to be having a problem with either your fact-checking, or your ethics. Your current issue is the second time you’ve mis-reported or outright distorted earning and vacation figures regarding Canada Post employees – and conveniently ignored the fact that 90% of new hires quit within a year for reasons of mental and physical stress, or that the only job with more on-the-job injuries is mining. So which is it? Are you guys uninformed? Or taken out for lunch now and then by Canada Post management? The errors are easily corrected, though. There’s chat rooms and message boards, certainly, but I’ve also taken the opportunity to contact CUPW (as well as my own letter carrier) and suggest letter carriers delivering your magazine personally hand it to the subscriber and correct your figures and share the facts I’ve mentioned above that you conveniently ignored or didn’t understand. An article that biased and/or poorly researched isn’t worth much as journalism, but it is an excellent starting point for conversations between letter carriers and their customers.

Tough times

My family was expecting a few travel grant cheques for medical reasons, they are stuck somewhere now in the postal system.
These cheques were supposed to get us through the month as part of our tight monthly budget. This postal disruption has caused alot of stress in our household of 6. I am sure I am not alone.

Whats the difference?

The claims on both sides are equally ambiguous and unbacked (post is down since x, post is up since y). Neither of these claims state cost, type of post (parcel, letter. Bills vs personal letters and corporate communication), or provide any context for someone not involved to make any judgement from them. For all we know post could be up, but the cost could be higher and so profits are down, or post could be down but cost is less so profits may be higher. Nobody is providing real, contextually relevant information, to the media or the people affected.

The Union made a big fuss about wage loss and pension changes to existing workers in the media, while all along the change would only be for new workers. Has anyone brough up comparable employment numbers in this debate (i.e. similar education requirements and work conditions)? No, they're both arguing from ambigous platforms that they should get more or less based on unrelated statistics (median income level is irrelevant, similar job media income level is much more accurate. I don't see many arguing fast food employees should be making 68k/year because thats a rediculous assertion).

The CPC's line is mail volumes fell due to the rolling strikes. This seems to be quite plausible to me. Just because there are letters to go out doesn't mean there is enough to make it cost effective, so in order to save money and reduce the impact they reduced the days they would operate. This makes perfect sense from a business standpoint. I don't know any person that isn't affiliated with CUPW that had a problem with delivery on 3 days instead of 5. Striking at this point was to force the hand of the CPC (who had accepted the rolling strikes) and failed.

I would say entering the agreement with "modest demands" is a bit of a misnomer. My understanding of your position (vs theirs) is that you want more money, more benefits, and are resiting any modernization changes that would save them money (due to health concerns, which is valid), while they're saying they are making less every year and have spent money to modernize and reduce their total costs in the long run. The two aren't mutually compatible, but neither side is willing to accept the position of the other to begin finding a workable compromise.

 

No Pay

Hi,

 

If you take a look at the following it states that the employees are indeed getting paid. Care to explain?

 

http://www.cupw.ca/index.cfm/ci_id/13099/la_id/1.htm 

Your link doesn't work...

Your link doesn't work...

to anonymous in halifax

The only employees that are getting paid at Canada Post are from other unions. PSAC (secretaries, call centers, administrative work etc.) and APOC(management) are all still getting paid. It's the people that are in CUPW that are locked out and not getting paid.

  From listening to CBC radio

 

From listening to CBC radio I don’t recall them ever saying it was a partial lockout. Pretty much every day they said Canada Post locked out the postal workers. I also never heard anywhere that Canada Post or the government said that regular mail was becoming irrelevant. That was only in the comments section and in stories by people commenting on the effect a prolonged strike might have if people had to switch even more to electronic mail.

I think the much bigger question is the government forcing them to accept a deal not agreed upon by the union itself, which wasn’t really discussed in this article. The article seemed to focus more as an attack on the media (CBC specifically), when again in this case they did seem to provide the facts. If you actually listened to media (at least the CBC radio) coverage and read full stories it wasn’t that bad, in this case. If you listened to one report maybe they missed some things. 

CBC radio is slightly less bias -

- because nobody listens to it, there's some old school labour tendencies still present in their narrative.

Unfortunately, talk radio caters to a much smaller, albeit more thoughtful audience. The idiot box is going to have a more noticeable effect on the random interactions you have in the street, especially for those on the picket line.

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