May 14th to 20th, 2023
It’s been a minute. I wasn’t able to find good, focussed time to write to you all over the last couple of weeks. Being on the road for conferences and conventions is surprisingly time consuming and being able to focus on something is often not in the cards.
We had our quadrennial national convention in Toronto from May 1st to 5th, and then the following week, Local Vice President Mahdia Hasan and I were representing the local in Montreal at the Canadian Labour Congress convention in Montreal.
We’re all back now, and while there have been a couple of changes at the local, things are still chuggin’ along.
At the time of writing, SNAFU. So many things have happened or haven’t happened over the last couple of weeks that I feel the whole situation needs a big corkboard with photos of major players and red strings connecting them, like something out of a police TV drama.
A couple of weeks ago, local managers announced to letter carriers at the Southwest depot that the corporation would be using the escape clause in the Deerfoot memorandum of agreement. In the same announcement, management informed us there would be a restructure early next year, and the depots would be converted to SSD.
There was going to be a consultation about the style of collection and delivery at the Northeast depot this week, but the corporation was interested in talking about SSD, and we were interested in talking about alternatives to SSD. Here’s the thing about these consultations: SSD is supposed to be discussed at the national level, but alternatives are supposed to be discussed at the local level.
When you ask the employer about this, nobody seems to know what’s going on. Local managers seem to throw their national counterparts under the bus and the national people tell us maybe the local managers don’t know what they’re talking about. Sounds like a nice environment to be in overall. We just keep asking questions and then asking for clarity because we get different answers to questions depending on who we ask.
We do know that the scheduled build of the Northeast routes has been pushed back a week because of the consultation problems. We should get more clarity next week.
The Southwest situation will take a little while longer to resolve. First, the restructure isn’t scheduled to begin until next year, so there is still time to discuss and figure things out.
Overall, we’re concerned the employer isn’t willing to make good on its commitment to meaningful consultation. We know local management agents are being instructed by their overlords in Ottawa not to accept any alternatives to SSD.
The local has a good plan and a reasonable alternative to SSD. We have a plan that involves reducing the size of every case and having letter carriers start in three waves. The employer claims these restructures are needed to create space on the floors of their depots, so making the sortation cases smaller is key. Also, by bringing in letter carriers in three waves, they will get some time at their cases in the morning, and no mail will be held for a day.
We do plan on raising these issues and will try to get clarity on them when we meet with local management agents on Thursday, May 25th.
FLOOD DRIVE TIME
We know that Northeast letter carriers are tired of waiting for their pay for the extra driving they had to do while the Northeast facility was out of commission last September, October, and November.
The process to figure out who was working and working what days, and therefore entitled to compensation, took a little longer than anyone was hoping.
We also had issues with management agents being unwilling to pay for drive times that letter carriers were forced to make. For example, it took multiple meetings and a whole lot of patience to get the employer to agree to pay for the drives to drop off live mail. If a route had a CMB with an outgoing mail slot, carriers were required to drive that mail to McDermot every day. The employer was not willing to pay this. It now is.
By waiting and continuing to press the issue, local executives ensured more people are getting paid more, and in a more fair manner. If we had settled months ago or taken the first offer, many of you, maybe all of you, would be getting ripped off.
We hope to have the final details of this situation for you next week after we meet with local management agents on Thursday, May 25th.
You have until the end of the day on June 2nd to get your applications in for the region’s spring education offering.
From June 26th to 30th, students will be at the Lakeview Gimli Resort to take either Unionism on Turtle Island or the Social Steward course.
Unionism on Turtle Island is an overview course designed to educate participants about Indigenous people’s struggles on Turtle Island since the Columbian Exchange. Topics explored include colonization, Indigenous people’s relationship with the nation state Canada, and reconciliation with Indigenous communities.
The Social Steward course will focus on what it means to be a social steward and how one can be an effective social steward and help to those in need. The union is interested in expanding the social steward network in the country, so this is a great time to get on board. Right now, the local only has two social stewards, and could use more.
Get the applications in to the local office by emailing me at email@example.com and Education Officer Tyler Nielsen at firstname.lastname@example.org by 4:30 on June 2nd. Don’t forget to fill out both sides of the application. The region won’t accept applications that haven’t been filled out completely.
Local executive officers and other delegates from the local spent the first few days of the month in Toronto, taking part in the union’s quadrennial convention. At national conventions, we update language in our constitution and elect national and regional representatives to new, four-year terms.
Overall, resolution debate went well. Delegates debated 31 resolutions overall, and passed 29 of them. That number is very high. As a member of both the 2019 and 2023 national constitution committees, I would say some of the credit for the high number of resolutions debated at convention goes to the 2023 committee. It worked well, and all members bought into a plan that provided delegates with a good program of resolutions to debate.
One item that was not discussed was prorated dues.
Prorating of dues has been a contentious issue in the union for many years now. CUPW members pay a flat rate, no matter how many hours you work. I’ve written about how dues are calculated extensively in the past and if you’re interested in reading about how it works, it’s clause 7.06 in the constitution.
There was a resolution regarding prorated dues queued to go to convention delegates fourth overall. But two weeks before convention, some members of the committee started raising concerns about how the resolution was worded. The resolution was seeking to base the dues rate on the pay of the lowest classification in the Urban Operations collective agreement. This position is a PSSA-1, and the rate of pay is in the $25 an hour range, not $30, which is what the dues rates are currently based on.
The conversation then turned to how this would have a severe and negative impact on the union’s bottom line. The committee members were flown to Toronto a day early to meet and discuss any potential issues that have arisen. The question of the resolution on dues was raised. It was reported to the committee on Sunday, April 30th, that the employer wouldn’t be able to implement a prorated dues formula until, conveniently, 2027.
This sounded like an employer problem to me, and eventually, the prorated dues resolution was pulled from the priority order. In subsequent committee meetings later that week, myself, Prairie Region committee member Maggie Davison, and the two members from the Pacific Region tried to put something together to take to the delegation, but the rest of the committee’s members were against it. When our proposal was spiked, the four committee members from the Prairies and the Pacific registered their dissent.
To all the temps and part-time workers who feel like they are being taken for granted with the flat-rate dues, I hear you. And I’m sorry the attempt to get dues prorated went like this this year. I tried. You’ll have to come back in four years with a good resolution.
A lot of the resolutions that were accepted by the delegates were good ones. There was a resolution from the Winnipeg Local that will see members get paid two hours of pay if they participate in job action for a day. This is a significant change from how things were. Before now, in order to get strike pay, you would have to be on the picket line for five days, and you would get $200. Now, you’ll get more than $50 for every single day of strike action.
Passing this resolution will put members’ money back into their pockets. Our defence fund is robust, and it’s time to start giving the members their money back if they are required to withhold their labour for a day. And, like I said, from Winnipeg. Of course. All the good stuff comes from here.
We increased the number of union representatives at the regional level by one. The Prairie Region now has five. The union operates in a $3.5 million deficit every year, and there was a resolution passed that would see this deficit covered by an annual withdrawal from the defence fund. The union will now have a youth committee at the national level. There will be internal organizing committees.
On the Thursday of convention, delegates debated policy resolutions. The most debated resolution was one regarding the deletion of policy A-26, a policy about home working. This policy was introduced into the constitution in the late 1980s and is currently being used to prevent union officers and representatives from working anywhere but out of 377 Bank Street in Ottawa, or one of the eight regional offices around the country.
The issue of home working is a contentious issue for the working world on the other side of the stay-home-be-safe pandemic. Generally, workers have figured it out and are demanding it. When PSAC members were on strike last month, one of their asks was for their work schedules to include some work-from-home time. And they are making gains there: https://globalnews.ca/news/9664421/psac-deal-remote-work/
Employers are generally against it. Just a couple of days ago, Elon Musk again stated his negative opinion of this worker-forward policy: https://www.theverge.com/2023/5/16/23726294/elon-musk-remote-work-cnbc-interview
For some reason, our union is very much with the employers on this one and not with the workers. In the end, the delegates to convention voted to keep policy A-26, and it will be used to justify forcing people to make unnecessary moves, or discourage them from participating altogether. And, it’s also odd because no one is actually asking for the right to work exclusively from their home – but people are asking to not have to relocate to do a job. Our members can live and work anywhere they want to in Canada, but when you work for the union, you are potentially forced to leave your home and go live somewhere else. I think it’s time for the CUPW to mature and admit that there are other ways, but the delegates at convention disagree. The struggle continues.
We didn’t have many elections at the national or regional level at this convention. Most vice presidents and officers were acclaimed. It’s possible that forcing people to move is influencing this. Also, union jobs are not easy. The hours are long. It’s stressful. There’s always something. People lose their jobs and sometimes you’re their first phone call about it. Working exclusively for the union isn’t for everyone.
But, it should be concerning that so few people are willing to put their names forward to do the work of the union. Every position should have had an election. Acclimations are the sign of a democracy in distress.
It was also a bit sad to see the Prairie Region shut out of the National Executive Committee after having three members there over the last year, and two through the last term. We still have a Prairie perspective on the National Executive Board through our national director position of course, but we went from having significant representation to very little, very quickly.
After the CUPW convention in Toronto, Local vice president Mahdia Hasan and I went to Montreal as delegates to the 2023 Canadian Labour Congress convention.
The CLC is the national umbrella labour organization. It oversees provincial federations of labour and advocates for workers with all levels of government, and from what I gather, most closely with the federal government.
While the CUPW convention is large with about 600 voting delegates, the CLC convention had close to 2,000. Debate on resolutions was a little calmer than it is at CUPW conventions. There was a resolution that CLC delegates passed that will make it so that locals of fewer than 1000 members will not be able to send a delegate to the convention in the future. This felt like the most contentious resolution of the week.
Generally, the policy resolutions, the action plans, and the resolutions asking for more advocacy were well supported. There are many people in this country who want to continue building a fair and just society with healthy communities for all.
While the sentiment in the room is one of hope, it’s also easy to be cynical. CUPW member John Lawrence stood up and spoke about how the resolution on clean drinking water in all Canadian communities doesn’t go far enough. That water should have been clean decades ago. I felt the sting personally when we were debating a well-intended resolution about $10-a-day daycare. It’s something my wife and I did not have that other people absolutely must have. So, why so much advocacy when there is clearly a need for action. All communities in the country with the most fresh water in the world should have clean drinking water. When another five years of advocacy without action goes by for new parents, they lose a down payment on a house.
Between resolution debates, there were smaller presentations happening in an exhibition centre and I tried to get to as many of those as I could as well. There were talks about organizing and strategies for improving communication and connection at a local level. There were talks by organizers from Starbucks, Trader Joe’s, and the Major League Baseball players’ association. The whole exhibition area was interesting and it was great to meet activists representing different organizations from around the country. The goal is to use those connections to enrich our local activities, using ideas and lessons learned from watching those talks to do better work here in Winnipeg.
The top CLC positions were also acclaimed this year. As with the CUPW, this indicates not a lot of people are even willing to do these jobs, and there could be multiple reasons for this.
It’s hard to know if the labour movement in Canada is strong or if it’s fledgling. Long lists of acclimations are not great. A lot of commitment to advocacy and not a lot to action is suspect. A lot of talk in labour circles seems to revolve around supporting NDP candidates in the next election, federal or provincial.
There is never talk about a general strike. In the last four years, no one in the labour movement has talked about the climate strikes in 2019 that were effective in changing narratives about where we’re going, and how we’re going to get there.
We need a lot of coordination to get what we need in this world and unions, labour councils, federations of labour and the Canadian Union Congress can all help in this effort, so they are worth supporting. It’s important for the advocacy to continue. The families, the communities, and the green spaces these organizations are fighting for are worth it. I hope it’s all enough.