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Toni MacAfee: Delivering the mail through a pandemic

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – The Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) Atlantic Region represents members in all four Atlantic Provinces. This includes all letter carriers, inside clerks and dispatchers, retail clerks, rural and suburban carriers, technicians, and mechanics that work at Canada Post. CUPW also represent other workers; members that provide delivery services for multiple private companies that subcontract from Canada Post; communication officers and transfer administrators at the Emergency Medical Care that do all transfers, call taking and despatching of ambulances in Nova Scotia; Communications Officers at Medacom in Prince Edward Island; as well, we represent Bee Clean workers in the Moncton, Saint John and St. John’s postal plants. 

As many workers are now at home, our members along with healthcare workers, retail workers, delivery drivers, store clerks, gas attendants and many other workers providing important services continue to go to work through this pandemic. 

For workers at Canada Post, the main issues have been around personal protective equipment, proper cleaning in our plants, depots and at the retail offices; and the challenges of social distancing in plants and depots, as well it has been a concern while our folks are out delivering and serving customers at our retail counters. 

Our members have fought extremely hard to ensure that we have strong language in our collective agreements to protect our rights and to enforce that our health and safety is protected.  Now, more than ever our members and Locals are making sure those rights are enforced. Since the beginning of this crisis, CUPW members have invoked their right to refuse over the issues mentioned above, as well as other health and safety issues that were not being dealt with in their workplaces in a timely and appropriate manner. 

Being a health and safety representative in CUPW right now is a very challenging position but our members and our Locals have been very vocal in demanding that our members’ rights and Health and Safety be protected. Local executive members are working day in and day out making demands to the boss to have the proper tools needed for members to do their jobs safely. 

We have seen a real disconnect between what management is saying at the top level, as to what is actually being implemented on the work floor. It would seem not all management are taking this pandemic as seriously as our membership, which often leaves our members with no choice but to refuse unsafe working conditions. There have been many occasions that individual managers and supervisors have made the wrong call, and our Locals have challenged those issues on the work floors and when appropriate have escalated that information to the Region for discussion at the next level.

As postal workers continue to provide services at retail counters, sort your mail and parcels, deliver your products to you, we would ask that you respect the social distancing protocols while we work. Oftentimes, people will gather as workers are sorting into apartment mail panels and community mailboxes, we would ask that you please wait until we are done our work and respect our space to ensure everyone’s safety. At retail counters, we would ask that you follow the guidelines that have been set up in those offices that call for limited customers and social distancing. 

As details change every day in every province, our members continue to fight back against the employer to ensure health and safety is respected. We need Canada Post and the government to ensure that workers have the proper tools to do their jobs safely. We cannot have workers already in a high stress situation, worried about if they will have gloves, hand sanitizers and disinfectant wipes that are highly needed when they arrive at work. 

Canada Post and the Government cannot use costs as an excuse not to protect our members. We need guarantees that our workplaces and equipment will be properly cleaned, that protection like plexi-glass dividers are installed and gloves, hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes are readily available every day. Otherwise, our members will have no choice but to refuse unsafe working conditions. 

When you see your postal worker or any worker for that matter, working in and for the public during this crisis, remember to be kind, respectful and do all you can to ensure that their safety is protected. While we fight to ensure our safety, we are also fighting to protect yours. 

When all this chaos is over and the dust settles, every single one of us needs to remember which workers were there providing services to meet our needs during this time. We will also need to ensure that governments and employers show these workers the respect they deserve by demanding that they get better rights, wages, benefits and protections. 

In Solidarity, 

Toni MacAfee, Education & Organization Officer,

CUPW Atlantic Region

See also: Letter from a postal worker: A better Canada Post for everyone

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