Devin Piper is a letter carrier, member and shop steward of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), Local 739 in the Fraser Valley, British Columbia.
Devin and over 50,000 more Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) members voted approximately 95% in favour of strike action in late September, after months of getting nowhere while bargaining with Canada Post. Since then the union has implemented rotating strikes involving thousands of workers and instituted an overtime ban.
What CUPW members are fighting for is what all workers deserve – livable wages, safe working conditions and stable, full-time jobs. What Canada Post is fighting for is what all corporations fight for – more work for less pay, fewer benefits or no benefits. They do this by imposing longer mail routes, paying rural workers less than urban workers, and demanding the right to hire unlimited amounts of temporary employees who would not receive regular pay, benefits or overtime and would be out of a job the moment the company didn't want them anymore.
Fire This Time supports the CUPW workers 100% in their fight for a fair contract. It is essential that all workers stand together to defend our common interests. The rise of temporary and precarious employment is having devastating effects on all workers, union and non-union, and their families and communities. The CUPW strike is an important fightback against this, and in defence of all worker's rights.
Below is an interview with Devin, on what he thinks about the ongoing strike.
FTT: What do you think are the most important issues being fought for between CUPW and Canada Post?
Devin Piper: Wage Equality is a major one this time around. Health and Safety - we have five times the injury rate in the Federal sector, and we have the second highest injury rate in the Federal sector behind longshoremen. That ties into the third issue, which is Overburdening. The routes are just too long, and that's because of parcels. That's where there's been a lot of growth, in parcels, and they're not giving us enough time to do them. So we're still expected to do the mail, and then they're just piling parcels on top of us, on top of the mail. They're basically saying, "You guys are going to the house with the mail anyways, just deliver a parcel while you go." They give us some time for parcels, but it's completely inadequate. So we're rushing. We're doing overtime like crazy.
Every Monday we're expected to do overtime, and that leads into the next point: Staffing. They use overtime to staff way too much. We're trying to create more full time, straight hour, jobs. Forced overtime is a big issue in a lot of smaller depots where they don't have a lot of people. We can get forced into overtime and they rely on that as a staffing tool, which they're not supposed to. We believe in the service, so we'll take that obligation, but they also must staff the job properly.
FTT: When you said "Wage Equality" - what did you mean by that?
Devin Piper: In 2011 we had a five-year pay scale, where you would start at the bottom wage and take five years to get to the top. The gap was about $2, and you would start going up those increments immediately whether you were a "permanent" or “casual” employee. Now we have a seven-year scale that starts even lower, and you don't even start climbing that scale until you become a permanent employee. So the main issue is that people are being kept as casual employees for longer periods of time, some even for five years, and when they finally become permanent employees, they have seven more years to make it to the top wage. It could take 12 years to get there, and that's ridiculous. Now you have people doing the exactly the same job, but one person is making seven dollars more an hour.
Justin Trudeau has completely failed us. A lot of what this round of negotiations is about is getting back some of the things we lost under the pressure of Stephen Harper-era legislation which was later found to be illegal.
FTT: You've been part of the ongoing CUPW rotating strikes. How would you describe the mood on the picket lines?
Devin Piper: Spirited. We were having fun. We picketed in the rain. It was really empowering. I got to tell a manager, "You're not going into our depot unless you pay my co-worker for her special leave that you denied. We need a commitment right now." He thought I was joking, and I was like, "No. I'm serious. This is a picket line, and I'm not going to allow you to enter unless you agree to pay this leave you've denied." So he agreed to pay it, and it was very empowering.
I know in our depot, a lot of the members are actually asking for more. We did a petition in our depot to call on our National Executive to do an all-out strike. So, when we got to go out even for one day it was pretty cool.
FTT: That leads me into my next question, what do you hope to see next?
Devin Piper: Well, I hope to see an agreement. I'd like to see Canada Post seriously negotiate. We demanded substantial wage increases - which means above inflation. We haven't gotten an above-inflation wage increase in at least a decade, probably more. We took 0% in 2015 for God's sake. ZERO PERCENT. So they came to us with 1.5% per year for four years, and we countered at 3.5%, and they countered back with no wage increase, but a minor improvement in how you move up the pay scale. So I want to see Canada Post come back with a proposal that's above inflation.
There's also a very specific issue that is called the "two bundles" system. We used to carry our mail in one hand, and you had one bundle of mail. Then they introduced these machines which sort the standard letters, and we sort the larger items like magazines by hand. They don't give us time to merge those two products. So what ends up happening on our route is that we carry the standard letters in one hand, and they expect us to carry the large stuff on our forearm. That's leading to so many injuries. That's leading to so much mail getting dropped. It was something that was dreamed up in a glass tower in Ottawa, but on the street, it's completely impractical. It would be such an easy fix to get rid of - it would take us 10 minutes in the morning to merge those together but that ten minutes could mean one or two more jobs, and apparently they can't have that. We need to see an agreement that gets rid of that system and gives us a decent wage increase.
FTT: And if the company is not willing to negotiate?
Devin Piper: We need to go all out. At some point, we need to go all out. We're rotating right now, and the company is still not negotiating. They have a special mediator, and we've gotten word from our union that the major issues, like the ones I've been talking about, they haven't even touched on them at all. Canada Post is not going to budge on these issues unless they are forced to. I don’t' know if rotating strikes can force them to because they continue to operate still. It's true that we're still getting paid, but then so do they. At some point, we need a nationwide mass strike, and we need to do it before they lock us out, so we can seize the initiative.
FTT: Thanks for the interview, Devin. See you on the picket line!
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