Phil Marsh is a militant postal worker with Canada Post with nineteen years seniority. Postal workers have a militant history and are currently unionized with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW). Phil has organized for years with the Sudbury Coalition Against Poverty (S-CAP). He and a small group of militant postal workers are currently working to rule against Canada Post. In a short period of time, they have accumulated over 2000 hours of overtime against the corporation.
The main areas of struggle in Phil’s workplace are:
• Fighting the ongoing attack on postal workers
• Higher than average injuries
• Capitulation of union
Fighting the ongoing attack on postal workers
Phil: The corporation introduced a five-point plan in December of 2013. It's in line with removing door-to-door delivery, and it's a five-year plan. This is year two, where the majority of residents, of addresses who receive mail at their door would be losing it. There's five million points of call in Canada, and the majority would be lost. Another one of their points...what they want to reduce...to maintain profit…and that’s by cutting jobs. Those are actually just the main two. The focus should be actually of (sic) what the workers' response is to their five-point plan.
The Canadian Union of Postal Workers have a seven-point plan...of actually expanding the Canadian postal service, which is expanding door-to-door delivery, not just restoring it, but expanding it, 'cause in Sudbury, where new subdivisions are being brought in…they have community mail boxes installed there. And under the Canada Post Act, the Canadian Postal Service Charter, every address should get mail delivery. Doesn't mean door-to-door, but if an adjacent area receives door-to-door delivery, why would not the next area receive door-to-door delivery? Under the Canada Post Act, it shall meet the needs of Canadians, the mail delivery, and shall continue to do so...as long as it's not bleeding red ink….They made over 250,000,000 dollars [in 2014], and they've made over 1.5 billion dollars in the last nineteen years. It's been profitable eighteen of the last nineteen years, so they should be expanding these services. What the workers want, in line with the seven-point plan, is not just door-to-door delivery…in rural areas, its maintaining driveway-to-driveway delivery, instead of going to their retail postal outlets and picking up their mail. 'Cause that section of the service is facing cuts as well….It's not just door-to-door, it's bigger than that. It's the driveway-to-driveway mail delivery, and it's also the retail postal outlets.
In New Sudbury, on Lasalle, at the postal plant, there's Canada Post wickets there to pick up, purchase…stamps...and downtown, they have one. We want to expand those services. Those services have been cut, and have been facing great cuts since the Mulroney government. Part of our collective agreement is to maintain approximately eighteen hundred across Canada, though we've had many more. And it's to expand those, 'cause when you cut- it's not just decent jobs that are at those, I mean, they're paid a decent wage with benefits, opposed to at those private companies, at Shoppers. It's not just the argument that you're paid a decent job (sic), you take more pride in your work. It's also the service that you get, 'cause you get your training. It's also, these retail outlets are solely just Canada Post products. When you're in those Shoppers Drug Marts, you're at the very back of the building, the hours are sporadic, and you have someone who's working who could be stocking shelves and being brought into the back to do that, and just the square footage that they have for the service that they offer is reduced. So as to meet the needs of Canadians is to...stop the franchising out.
Rachael: Are the ones that do the driveway-to-driveway “contractors” or employees?
Phil: They are employees. They're rural route…mail service couriers. They've been brought into our bargaining with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, in the early 2000s.
Rachael: So it's not the same issue as the franchising?
Phil: No…and it's difficult to organize at Shoppers, at those places, because of...employee turnover.
Rachael: How did the franchising thing- how and when did that come in?
Phil: Mulroney government...in the 80s...wanted to take them all out...no more retail post offices by Canada Post...but, similar resistance to what's going on now to...ending the door-to-door delivery....The Canadian public, with the workers, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, and with allies across labour, and working class people, stood up and demanded that that stop....There was a moratorium in place, a cease and desist of closing them, and our collective agreement does say to maintain...eighteen hundred, but...there were many many cuts to the retail postal outlets.
Rachael: When they got that new one downtown at the Shoppers....it's not affected by that moratorium?
Phil: 'Cause none was closed....What kind of financial sense does that make? Put one across the street two blocks over? It's going to impact, “Well, how's our bottom line for this retail postal outlet?” “Well, we’re losing...”
You sell a franchise to someone to use your name, but you have your own retail postal outlet across the street? What's going to happen in the long run?
Rachael: So...you guys didn’t get language on the opening of new ones, you just got language on the closing-
Phil: Yeah, you have to maintain...approximately eighteen hundred....I mean, they look at the books...of that retail postal outlet....If the numbers have decreased, then perhaps they would look at closing that....Would that be covered under the ? I mean, as long as they have other ones maintained.
Canada Post has made over...1.5 billion dollars in the last 18 years....Workers want to make sure that it's making money as well because that's job security for us, and less reason for the public to demanding (sic) changes in a negative way for the service....And another way that it can make even more money is through banking....It was in Canada through the 50s or 60s, but stopped. But in countries such as New Zealand, Italy...the revenue from the banking into their postal service represents 25 to 75% of the revenue....So I mean that would bring up just a lot more money here, and we have, especially in rural areas who don't have banks in their communities....We have transportation going daily to these postal offices, and so we have the infrastructure in place....It would…provide banking services to them, and with the size of the company, we could have usury charges that are much more fair than what they have at the Payday Loan places in urban areas. So that's another way of expanding...postal jobs, and expanding the service as well...'cause we have wickets right across the country....What [the workers] want to see with the public postal service is expanding services...and increase-...it'll be making even more money and servicing Canadians better.
These job losses- it's not just impacting…the wickets, those retail postal outlets that are closing down, that are privatizing. It's not just impacting letter carriers where, in Sudbury, we have approximately 67 full time letter carriers....Couple years ago, we had 87, and 2009, we had 99....So it's not just those job losses, and- they're projecting…if under the Canada Post five-point plan with the removal- end of door-to-door delivery, that Sudbury would...lose 32 full-time- that's just letter carriers....There wouldn't be letter carriers, there would be delivery...agents....Because how could we be called letter carriers when we won't be delivering letters? The mail has changed drastically...just in the last year, forget decade to decade....The marketing has increased, we see, through advertising, through flyers....That's a very important and big part of revenue, and that has grown, and with parcels and packages, that has grown. Those divisions have grown drastically, and that's another thing with our plan is, too, for workers is to...meet those needs of...the changing...business of mail....Not just the losses of the letter carrier jobs, but it's impacting inside workers as well, people in the mail processing plants that we have in Sudbury. We have one...beside Food Basics, and...there's 33 full-time jobs...postal clerks...there's some dispatchers in there as well...[people who] unload trucks...twelve of them, but for postal clerks, there's 33 full-time....They just announced last week to us that they're removing eight...so, over a quarter of the workforce is being cut as a result of postal transformation.
They're abolishing those positions....These are retirees....Every time someone retired...they're just abolishing those positions....Where's our next generation of workers going to be employed? [The corporation] is financially sustainable....They can afford for these positions to be there...so this is completely unnecessary....That just puts more people unemployed....And also, for even the health of pensions. When you reduce the workforce, and people paying into it, via the economy of scale...it's that much more difficult to have a healthy pension. So eventually, then, they'll say, “Oh, we can't share the pensions.”
And that's what they're doing already is, actually...instead of a defined contribution benefit...when you retire, you get X amount every month...no matter what the economy is, you get that money. But now, it's called...a target benefit...where, if the trigger in the economy, whatever variable they used....If it doesn't bring out a certain percentage, then...you'll receive less. Then you have options to pay more...either pay more or work longer....It is going to be brought into ours, but [also] through all pensions across Cana- they're going to try to bring this in....And it's completely unnecessary....And now, so you have the intensification of these jobs- inside workers who have to work that much harder...to get the mail out…it is having a big impact on their mental health. It's bad in there.
The postal transformation is a way of using less employees to do the work...and yet it's costing more money, because you have to invest into machines....Instead of letter carriers sorting the mail, you have machines that are doing it, but the machines...are not free to maintain....What's that versus paying employees to do it? Is it necessary? Is there lobbying going on for companies selling these machines? For neo-liberalism, that's a big part of it....The dominant authority saying how important- how useful machines are going to be for working class...we'll have to work less...and our jobs are going to be easier....Look what happened right after that: job loss, you have machines replacing people....And the intensification...people are working harder than ever, longer hours...or more in an hour...the productivity has increased....That's just a question...about the machines that are being purchased...versus what the cost of paying workers to do it, and just the benefit to society when you have these decent jobs....How many people would benefit from making those machines? That's what the postal transformation is based on...bringing in machines, and centralizing mail, so if they have it just in the larger plants across the country, taking away...the mail processing plants in small areas, such as Sudbury, where you see the...jobs being reduced there. Our mail in Sudbury is being sequenced in Toronto....That's the postal transformation....There's So. [South] Central in downtown Toronto, and there's Gateway in Mississauga as well...approximately 10,000 workers...in those two buildings....But just to put it in perspective...the postal transformation will cost approximately two billion dollars....How many decent jobs could you pay for that money...for...the same service?
The union did not know about [the cuts to door-to-door delivery] until...the same day that it was announced to the public....And there was no public consultation....Every day I hear: “I want my door-to-door delivery to continue.” It's not just labour allies, these are from everyday people....But changes [of] this magnitude, you'd think, in a democratic country, when the public...owns the postal service...they should have a say in what kind of service they want, and so they should be consulted on this, on changes of this magnitude....Every few years, the Post Office goes through [a review]. They didn't even do that this year. They said this consultation that they did with their friends, said this was...the review....A few years ago...the public said...they wanted mail delivered for the same price in all points of call....Their review this year, they didn't ask....There's enough mail out there...and people care about their mail that much...and...the finances are there to pay for mail to be delivered every day, from postage that...you would expect...it to be maintained five days a week....We can afford them, and where's that next generation of workers going to go? Why can't we keep them? We can. We can....And just with the support from...everyone across the country...we expect the public post office...to put a moratorium on ending door-to-door delivery, and we do expect these decent jobs to be around for a long time.
Higher than average injuries
Phil: Machines replacing people for sorting...that means more time out on the street [for the letter carriers], and just for the survival and the sustainability on the human body...how many hours a day can someone walk? The intensification of letter carriers' work has been so much, there's been so many injuries....Approximately 1,000,000 federal workers in Canada; we're 50,000 [note: 50,000 is 5% of 1,000,000] – we represent 20% of the injuries....That's from the Canadian Centre For Policy Alternatives....These letter carriers which are injured...they put them inside the plant....They may be counting on injured workers. Where are they going to put them? Inside. Is that why they're not replacing these inside workers? Right now in our collective agreement...job security within a forty km radius....If you're hired, they have to maintain your employment. If Sudbury's declared next on one of those communities to lose their door-to-door delivery, where do those...workers go? They're guaranteed jobs, but when our collective agreement is up in January of 2016, will that be what [the corporation] will take away, is that job security within a forty km radius? And that has been impacting a lot of people....People who are in wickets and been in wickets for 25 years....They have to maintain their employment within forty km, but it doesn't necessarily mean...in that job position, so they force people to...go out letter carrying, when they've been, for years, been an inside worker....It's having a negative impact on their life...
Capitulation of union
Phil: Our work day is engineered and designed....Every action, every sequence is marked and put down into a formula for an eight-hour work day. But now our use with this has only been set at inside duties, not out- because you have to scan at the door: two minutes and eighteen seconds. But now they've changed where we have to count...how many surplus, or not enough, flyers for our route. How long would that take, to add- input those numbers into that, on top of the two minutes and eighteen seconds? And another one they're doing is...the parcel segment has increased. But every parcel is supposed to be inputted...and sorted by an inside worker into the letter carrier's walk, but if I- today, I had thirty parcels. Okay, all those would be- an inside worker scanned all those in there, and now when I look inside, it'll say thirty parcels, but…it is…never that thirty. Could be twenty, could be forty....Now, the boss wants us- each letter carrier- “Well, just go scan all your parcels.” It is important...that it is in the system, but we don't have values to go scan inside- re-scan each of these thirty items. So, here's me arguing with the boss every day. “I'm not doing- I have two minutes and eighteen seconds. You want me to- you're telling me to scan now- that's two minutes to go grab this, return it at the end of the day.” They want to do all these extra things, well, count my flyers and input that in, AND scan all my parcels. Well, I don't have time for that. But meanwhile, every other worker- they tell every worker to just go and do this, and every worker around me is doing that, but I tell workers, “No, don't. We shouldn't be doing this.” And other workers, too, aren't doing that. But you're just a couple people. You're singled out. And the boss [says], “Well, you're the only one not doing this.” You're just facing the wrath of the boss every day. And then, you talk up with the hierarchy of our union, 'k, this is just Sudbury. And their response is, “Well, it's already- it's brought in....We're going to wait and see what's happening about this.” A month after a national leadership change of looking at...mobilizing workers, and engaging workers in fightback, then every local would be informed: “'K, this is what the boss is doing. They're bringing in this new tactic.” Every worker there, talk to them, have meetings with them. “We're not doing this.” But that hasn't happened, and they're sneaking this in....What's next? Part of the work to rule is- yeah, the boss tells me every day, “You're missing-” You'll have a report of scanned items through the computer system. “This one wasn't scanned, this one wasn't scanned, and you gotta scan them at the door.” I do everything I'm told to do, but my values…that's it. But I face heat every day like that. [I'm] so disappointed with our national union....That's just one item that they could be – something so simple. And so important. That's, like, five minutes....The boss does acknowledge this- it takes time....We're already intensified. [The boss says], “Yeah, just do five, ten more minutes of...work.” If we just all stopped, across the country, doing that? It's very simple to do....So when does this start, this fightback?
Rachael: So, the values...that refers to contract language that measures the work?
Phil: Every route should be the same, 480 minutes....It's binders of measuring each little...part of the day from flicking a pen to writing a tag....It's only based on paper. There's nothing in there talking about snow...[or] anything that goes on in your day....So many things not taken into the equation....Why does it take a worker...nine and a half, ten hours to do an eight hour work day? It's because of situations like that coming in that's not into the equation.
Rachael: How has the two-tier concession been playing out...? And how does that affect worker morale?
Phil: Everyone hired since our last contract - three years - would be paid 30% less than our wage. So they're in there, doing the same work for less money. So they're forcing on just the high unemployment to take what's at first is a precarious job; there's no guaranteed hours, there's no guaranteed anything....They know that they're getting paid less...but due to...the system that we live in, through capitalism, they're...thankful that they have a job [that is] better than minimum wage....They would love to be paid the same wage...but what...can they do? It's up to the workers who are there...this period right now of negotiating for a collective agreement, to have that in there...not to let them down....It's unacceptable...for that to continue.
Rachael: Do you think that is...a low point in working class consciousness...for capitalists to be able to divide the workers in that particular way?
Phil: Absolutely....It's a complete insult....It's an insult to even the workers who are there....The people who are paid that...reduced wage will outnumber...the previous workers...in two more [contract periods]....Is it possible that the employer for that round of negotiation propose, “Well, we'd like to give those people getting a reduced wages a wage, but those...other workers are making too much.” It'll be an attack on [all workers].
For that last round of negotiations, they went to...the final selection arbitration....One side prepares what their demands are, the other side prepares what their demands are. The arbitrator decides yes or no [on each issue]. It's not negotiation, it's totally undemocratic….Before that final selection arbitration, the corporation put in a...draft, and the national union agreed to it, 15 people....Those fifteen [said], “We could get worse.”
In Sudbury, we voted 97% not in favour of that...part of the collective agreement....The two biggest things of concession [were] the two tier wages [and] the loss of our sick time....It was vicious, vicious....When I spoke with...national union leaders, [they said], “Well, the conditions aren't right....Next time.” Since I've been there , it's been that. So, here's an opportunity with the Save Canada Post campaign....Here's your chance to mobilize....They do feel that the time is right....The support from the public....So the conditions are right for a fair contract, with respect for the workers.
Rachael: Do you think the [union] committee [to save door-to-door] is doing good work so far?
Phil: [Most CUPW locals] do have a committee set up. These are just committees of workers who's (sic) going to look after the struggle and resistance. They'll be the leaders for the workers....We do have a committee in Sudbury... and they're working hard....It's difficult with the intensification of the work, and with the work-life balance to be doing much after. What we do have is a few workers on this committee...who have been distributing lawn signs, having public events every couple months...community barbeques, town hall meetings....They've organized that and had speakers...and inviting media....They introduced through City Council...a motion not supporting ending door-to-door delivery....That passed...in July....And that's what the committee does: communicating with...councillors on this issue....Why is it important for the City of Sudbury to maintain door-to-door delivery in Sudbury? The main [argument] is...decent jobs....Who administers...social assistance? It's the municipality....So if you have...greater unemployment, where are they going? Social assistance. That'll hit [the City] right there....Two... there's a third party liability....The city would be responsible for injuries and property damage done to these [community mail boxes]...whether it's graffiti or litter...repairing lawn...which are complaints that city councillors already get....Would [risk liability payments] go up if paying for...people that are injured from falling...at a community mailbox? Appraisers have said...it is likely that value of a home would depreciate with a community mailbox in front....And theft [of mail] has increased....So it wasn't difficult to get the majority of the city councillors.
Can we do more? Yes. Looking at communities such as London and Hamilton and Winnipeg, where...the Save Canada Post campaign has been heightened and grew, and involves not just workers but people in the community as well- are on board, and they're going door to door, canvassing people who receive mail- let them know about these changes, and...just through social media, there's networks on there that they're connected to...with information being released through the news, that everyone has access to that, and any events that will be coming up, where it's not just a worker-led initiative, it's a community initiative, and that's something that...the committee here in Sudbury could go towards that....And I can see that happening here because the support from the public here has been very strong.
Rachael: How is the committee integrating groups and/or individuals who want to support the campaign?
Phil: That's a tricky part of this campaign is how do we...transition...to the public...having tasks? Having the public lead these tasks...in organizing this resistance....I mean you'd think it's a matter of having a clipboard and paper and getting all your supporters with you. And that's what's been done, is you put them on social media [list], where we could all interact...just in terms of organizing and mobilizing more people and informing people of what's going on....With our union...that's the objective...each community be in control of their own...resistance.
As a union, going into this contract, more than any in a long time, the leverage that we have from- it's a public service, and ultimately, the stronger support we have from the public, the more leverage that we have. And because we've done so well financially....We should not be hesitant to ask...for fair...working conditions in our collective agreement....This link with the Save Canada Post campaign and the collective agreement is critical and crucial. If we needed more incentive to have the public on our side and to grow this campaign, that's it right there. But you're left with...limitations of- we don't have, like, full-time worker union officers in Sudbury....We're all workers during the day.
If a worker takes time off work, it's paid through our union...dues....So, it's up to the membership in Sudbury on how much time off we'd be willing to pay a worker to do...union business such as this....It's a volunteer basis....That's just one of the limitations...of how hard it is to get the workers involved- it's just the intensification of the work, and people have their own work-life balance.
In those communities that have already been hit with ending door-to-door delivery, and that's why they are at that stage right now. It hasn't [been brought in] in Sudbury yet, but it could be tomorrow. We don't know when it'll be announced; it's inevitable. They said within five years, the majority of people who receive mail will be delivered [to] by community mail boxes....And the workers, we don't know until it's heard on the news. What can we do...in Sudbury...now? The possibility [of] having more town hall meetings, but in each little community, such as, let's say, O'Connor Park, have one in...let's say...ten different...smaller neighbourhoods....It's just getting...people out....Just mention the financial viability and possibilities of what the workers have in...mind for the post office to be sustainable, and our vision of the public post office...and where they'd have the opportunity for their say on what they'd like to see...
Rachael: Do you think that the Save Canada Post campaign would...initiate neighbourhood meetings?
Phil: Yeah, it is how to initiate that? A couple workers would have no problem doing that...but you'd need more than two workers....The vision from the national union is [for] each community to [have] its own autonomy....It is decentralized....It's difficult getting our co-workers involved, just with the demands of everyday life, the demands of work...
The corporation has their plan...for day-to-day operations; that's the autonomy of a crown corporation without the government looking over every day, but for changes of this magnitude...the government does have control on it, and so these changes are endorsed by the current government, and they could stop this....The current federal government is in favour of this....One way that this could all stop is the next election....The...NDP has stated they would...not just...put a moratorium on ending door-to-door delivery, but restore it in communities that have lost it....I think it's important that we just focus on this community-level, neighbourhood-level building up resistance to this, regardless of what government is in power....There's a large group of people – the masses – who want the public post office to continue, even to expand its services, and not be told by a government...what the postal service should be....If there is a political party who would put an end to ending door-to-door delivery... then it would be useful to have that party in….Right now...we're not affiliated with any political party...
The corporation - or the government - never gave the workers anything. It's the workers struggling and the workers mobilizing together, where any victories were made....This attack on the public post office, perhaps it's a way to galvanize...working class people....[We] can make a difference through struggle...and for other parts of labour, too...having more visible fightback and resistance.
Rachael: Can you think of another struggle that has as much potential to create a mass movement?
Phil: It's coast to coast. We could get people from all- it's in all communities.
Rachael: I definitely see the potential.
Phil: So do I....It could provide space for other working class struggles.
The postal “transformation” is an advance in the ongoing attempt to privatize Canada Post in capital’s interest. The corporation’s viability is precisely why the ruling class wants to privatize it. In this interview, Phil has documented the reasons why these jobs are important in the lives of postal workers and in our communities. These jobs were hard won and the gradual elimination of these workers is unacceptable. We must defend postal workers!
When I expressed interest in doing just that to a (non-militant) postal worker involved with the Save Canada Post (SCP) committee here in Sudbury, I was quickly connected to Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) President Mike Palecek via Facebook. He was happy to engage with me as long as he thought I would struggle for his political line, but as soon as I asked him why all postal workers are not working to rule right now, why the national is encouraging postal workers to perform work that isn’t even covered by their collective agreement, why militant postal workers are being marginalized and isolated under his watch, and why consumerism is the focus of the struggle, he chose not to reply. Despite having previously responded very quickly, several times, he chose to abandon our conversation. This is not a manifestation of autonomy.
At this moment in history, it is a struggle to understand what autonomy means. That’s alright, struggle is how history advances. Postal workers feel SCP is a workers’ committee, and that may be, but it is not autonomous. That means that it is under the leadership of classes other than the working class, and that is a strategic mistake.
The fundamental contradiction of society is between labour and capital – not between consumers and capital. By focussing on the consumer aspect of this struggle and not the workers, CUPW and SCP are engaging in populism. Populism is the practice of appealing to people without accounting for their different class interests, without making class distinctions. This political line removes the potential for transformation because it will not bring us any closer to a working class led organization and movement.
When we assert that our organizations need to have autonomy, this is precisely what we mean: the power to name and organize the campaign to save our jobs. So instead of having a campaign called Save Canada Post that is focussed on services, we (workers leading an alliance of all the dominated classes) might have a campaign called Save Postal Workers that is focussed on the value of postal work in our society. A focus on services corresponds to the class interests of professional union organizers: the petit bourgeois class – not the interests of workers. In other words, this campaign may save the postal service and workers’ jobs, and it may result in a stronger union bureaucracy, but it would not result in a stronger working class movement. Union executives are not in the same class as workers. This is why they confine workers’ struggles within boundaries that are acceptable to capital. Unions, insurance companies and lawyers are all necessary under capitalism but relying on them, especially to advance our struggle, is not ultimately in our interests. Business unions have their own class interests, distinct from workers’ interests. This is very difficult to accept at this moment in history, but workers need to be in control of our struggles.
So, we agree with Phil when he points out that it will be “tricky” to integrate community support into the SCP campaign. Despite the fact that there are interesting things happening with the SCP campaign in different communities, if we ever want to see another mass movement that actually has the potential to challenge capital, workers can’t share the leading role. Forcing workers to subordinate themselves to classes that are not in antagonistic relation to capital will relegate such efforts to reformism. In this light, we can see how the transformational potential of this struggle has been removed from the beginning.
Canada Post’s ongoing attack on postal workers is a workers’ struggle and should be principally framed as such. We want to focus on workers, particularly the most advanced workers in this struggle. There is a small group – a true vanguard – of militant postal workers in Sudbury working to rule against Canada Post, and this is where we will focus our support.
We also agree with Phil that there is a “critical and crucial” connection between the SCP campaign and the upcoming CUPW contract negotiation with Canada Post. Postal workers need their own parallel organization – if only to force SCP and CUPW to do what they want – and again, the militant workers committee Phil is part of is where we will focus our support.
Of course we can and will work with the SCP to the level of unity we have, but this is the alternative to CUPW and the SCP we present to postal workers and community supporters. If you’d like to struggle with us to support this group of militant postal workers in the lead, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally posted at Workers Struggle Sudbury.