Ryan Knight, president of Local 712 of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, expressed disappointment about back-to-work legislation that came into force on Tuesday. Photo by David Gordon Koch/Campbell River Mirror

Union president for North Island condemns back-to-work legislation for postal workers

Reactions divided in Campbell River as Senate decision brings an end to rotating strikes

Reactions in Campbell River were divided after back-to-work legislation affecting postal workers passed through the Senate in a 53-25 vote on Monday evening.

A union official representing North Island postal workers condemned the Trudeau government’s decision to end rotating strikes.

“They’ve taken away our rights to negotiate a collective agreement,” said Ryan Knight, president of CUPW Local 712. “CUPW will not forget.”

READ MORE: Senate passes back-to-work bill, putting end to rotating postal strikes

He said the postal business has changed dramatically due to rising volumes of e-commerce goods since he started working for Canada Post 12 years ago.

A route with 20 parcels was considered a lot when he started, he said.

“Now it’s quite common to come in on a Monday and have about 140 parcels,” Knight said. “To try to get all that delivered, along with the mail and the flyers in eight hours is simply unattainable.”

The change has also led to more injuries on the job, he said, because postal workers often find themselves working in the dark. During overtime shifts, postal workers often find themselves tripping over objects on poorly-lit driveways, he said.

The solution for Canada Post has been to provide headlamps, Knight said.

North Island postal workers have experienced multiple severe injuries, he said. Some members have injured their knees or shoulders, while others have thrown out their backs.

Two members of the union local, which represents some 50 workers, recently retired early due to their injuries, he said.

READ MORE: MP Blaney takes a stand for postal workers, citing high injury rates and long overtime hours

“They really felt like they were forced out the door by the corporation because their bodies were breaking down,” Knight said.

With the strike over, Knight said he expects to work a minimum of 50 overtime hours by Christmas – the union had implemented an overtime ban as part of job actions.

He added that forced overtime is especially problematic for single mothers tasked with picking up children from daycare.

Knight acknowledged that the rotating strikes may have affected people including small business owners, but said that Canada Post exaggerated backlogs and used them as a scare tactic.

He thanked members of the public who expressed their support to postal workers in person, saying it provided encouragement.

On Tuesday morning, shortly before the law came into force, CUPW released a statement vowing to fight the legislation.

Customers call the post an ‘essential service’

Meanwhile at the post office on Ironwood St., one small business owner said the timing was bad for disruption to the postal service, and expressed support for the legislation.

“I think it was an appropriate move,” said Stephen Nesbitt, who was picking up mail on Tuesday when he spoke to the Mirror. “How much of the population depends on the mail for Christmas parcels?”

Nesbitt, whose business interests include Nesbitt’s Island Coffee and some industrial storage yards, said the job action hadn’t directly affected him. He said strikes would put a special burden on low-income people who can’t afford courier services.

“Mail for them is an essential service,” Nesbitt said.

He noted that CUPW and Canada Post have 90 days to arrive at an agreement with a mediator.

“If they’re serious, they should be able to get an agreement, so I see nothing wrong with that,” Nesbitt said. “It sort of salvages Christmas for a lot of people.”

He said senators delayed their vote to give the union a chance to come to an agreement, and expressed wariness about arguments put forward by the postal workers’ union.

“There’s always a middle ground,” he said. “I’m not saying the union’s wrong or right or the company is.”

READ MORE: Vancouver Island postal worker accuses Canada Post of questionable tactics during strike

Also at the post office on Tuesday morning was a retired construction worker who asked the Mirror not to publish his name for privacy reasons.

As a former union member, he said he defends workers’ right to strike. But he said disruptions to the postal service shouldn’t hold up the country.

He called the post an essential service and blamed the government for not resolving the crisis at the Crown corporation earlier.

The man – who is 83 years old – said that during a previous labour conflict at Canada Post, he paid $50 to send an important medical document by courier to Vancouver.

“There’s a lot of older people who depend on cheques and stuff like this,” he said. “We’re between a rock and a hard place really.”

@davidgordonkoch
david.koch@campbellrivermirror.com

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