For months workers at a Canada Post mail processing plant in Edmonton had been complaining of conditions that they felt jeopardized their safety and wellbeing in the workplace.
Recent changes required employees to lift heavier objects more frequently than in the past. Routine safety talks and site walkthroughs were not being performed. The long-established practice of trading duties with other workers was revoked, and problems with staffing and scheduling were putting staff at greater risk of injury, the employees said.
When management failed to address these issues, workers put their concerns in writing. Staff circulated a petition that was signed by the majority of employees in their section and scheduled a meeting with management on February 16 to present the letter and have their grievances heard.
In a surprising escalation resulting from management’s refusal to hear these complaints at that meeting, police were called, charges threatened, and over 40 postal workers were suspended without pay.
“Canada Post issued a five-day suspension for every single worker that was involved, served consecutively the following week,” said Devon Rundvall, president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers Local 730, which represents workers at the Edmonton facility. “The reality is Canada Post refused a five-minute conversation and instead issued six and a half months of suspensions.”
“It’s very disheartening and frustrating, because how can we as workers bring up our concerns about our working environment related to health and safety if we can’t have management speak with us when we request them to?” said Mark, one of the roughly 40 workers who received a five-day suspension.
Mark’s real name is being withheld because they fear their job would be threatened if they were identified.
Leading up to the incident on February 16, Rundvall said that workers had already been filing grievances and “doing everything that we’re told that we’re supposed to do to get results, to get justice, to get change. And time and time again, for months on end, Canada Post just refused to address any of these issues.”
It was the recognition of how slow and ineffectual the bureaucratic process can be that prompted workers to take more direct action to improve conditions. Problems in the workplace had come to a point where “people were no longer able to just silently suffer and deal with it,” Mark said. “I think a health and safety issue should be investigated immediately. Whether or not the corporation thinks it’s valid, how could they know if they haven’t heard the concern?”
When the 40 workers and their union president gathered on the shop floor, management again tried to refuse the meeting.
“[The manager] refused to talk to us, he would not listen to anything we said. He just kept trying to send us to work, telling us that the meeting wasn’t going to happen that what we were doing was grandstanding,” Mark said.
The workers stood their ground and waited. After two hours a labour relations representative arrived and listened to the groups’ concerns. “Then she told us that what we were doing was considered an illegal work stoppage,” Mark said.
“We didn’t see it that way. Because at any moment, management could have given that five minutes and we would have went back to work. So, we felt like this time delay in hard work was all up to management. They had the control.”
Around the same time, the Canada Post head of security pulled Rundvall aside to tell him that the police had arrived, and he would be arrested and charged with either disturbing the peace or delay of mail under the Canada Post Act.
“By the time I made it to the front, there were three Edmonton Police officers waiting for me, cuffs in hand, waiting for the order to arrest me to come across the radio. It didn’t come. I guess their boss told him let them go. And that was the end of it,” Rundvall said.
Management has since said that the reason the police were called was “because the shift manager felt like he was in danger,” Rundvall told Canadian Dimension. “Which is quite laughable.”
While Rundvall was never charged, all of the workers involved have now been served with suspensions and final warnings. It’s a move that CUPW says is an attack on all of its members, silencing workers from reporting job hazards and contract violations.
“The expectations of employees are detailed in our collective agreements and our internal code of conduct. Beyond that, we don’t comment publicly on personnel matters,” a media relations representative from Canada Post said in an e-mailed statement.
“We felt like they were violating our rights,” Mark said, noting CUPW workers have the right to complain under their collective agreement.
“We all have the same issues. we all have the same concerns. And when those concerns aren’t being addressed, and when these problems aren’t being rectified, at some point you’re going to exercise what options you have.”
A fundraiser has been set up to cover the lost wages of the suspended workers and has so far raised nearly $2,500.
Brett McKay is a writer and journalist based in Edmonton, AB. You can contact him here.