Feature Story                                                                                            Saturday, January 18, 2014

 

Tin Monoliths

Canada Post to slash home delivery and switch to super mailboxes, local CUPW union leader wants independent financial review

Staff/voice photos

 

Traffic was light at the main post office in downtown Chilliwack on Friday. Below, the safest and most coveted mailboxes in the city are inside the lobby.

 

n December, Canada Post Corporation quietly announced a sweeping financial reform strategy they call the "Five-point Action Plan.

According to the brief release, Raitt, Minister of Transport, said "The Government of Canada supports Canada Post in its efforts to fulfill its mandate of operating on a self-sustaining financial basis in order to protect taxpayers, while modernizing its business and aligning postal services with the choices of Canadians. We look forward to seeing progress as Canada Post rolls out its plan for an efficient, modern postal service that protects taxpayers and is equipped to meet Canadians’ needs now and in the future."

The Corporation is betting that adding super mailboxes across the country will help mitigate losses that it says will total in the billions of dollars over the next six years.

Part of the plan proposes to end urban door-to-door delivery and install super mailboxes instead and this has communities up in arms over what many see as the most contentious and profound postal issue Canadians have had to deal with since the pony express.

Are Canadians' needs really being met if home delivery is scrubbed?

 

People don't like the idea and are fighting back. Many are creating petitions. But it's going to take more than petitions. It's going to take unprecedented political pressure to make the Corporation change its agenda.

Under the new plan, those living in urban areas, including subdivisions and single family homes like on Fairfield Island, will have to get their mail from super mailboxes, or community mailboxes as some call them, while apartments dwellers who already have mail being delivered to group boxes won't have to do anything different.

In Chilliwack, Pete Butcher, President of CUPW Local 741, who lives in Garrison Crossing and has a delivery route to super mailboxes, told the Voice in a phone interview Thursday that he understands people's frustrations with what's going on.

Prior to Christmas, Butcher dropped in to Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon MP Mark Strahl's office and left his business card. A few days later, he had an appointment to see him.


"We were very surprised to get a one-on-one talk with him. He does seem to be very hard to get to see," said Butcher. "Some members have had to do sit-ins to see their MP."

So on Thursday, Butcher met with Strahl about the proposed plan and said that although the MP listened to them, they received no response to their major concerns.

Strahl was busy in meetings Thursday and staff at his office were tight-lipped about what transpired at the meeting, but did say he had a "good meeting" and that the "Five-point Action Plan" was part of the discussion.
 

Butcher talked candidly about the meeting.


"He's read the Five-point Plan, but not in complete detail and he will take time and read it, but he didn't give us any real answers on anything. Rest assured, he wouldn't go out and say, 'Yes, I'll stand up for my constituents and I'll voice my concerns', he wouldn't go out on a limb and say that."

Currently, there are 20 full-time letter carriers and 1 part-timer in Chilliwack. Under the plan, they'll lose about 5 of those jobs through attrition and retirement.

"Additionally, we lost six positions that were bid out," he said. "Then they ended up with what we call 'sitting on the bench' where we wait for work like in Abbotsford."

Butcher understands Strahl is a new Member of Parliament and may not want to make waves. But he would like to see the MP stand up at Question Period in the House of Commons and say something on their behalf.

Even though he's optimistic something can be done to stop the drastic changes, there is a note of pessimism in his voice, and he does want to meet with Strahl again to see if any headway has been made.

Butcher said it's not going to go over well with local union members and constituents if they haven't gained ground by then.

The prospect of losing home delivery came as a shock to seniors and others with mobility issues who say it's an absurd plan. Others cite traffic and litter as additional concerns.

The super mailboxes are also seen as crime magnets and easy targets.

"We have so many break-ins to the mailboxes. It's running rampant," said Butcher. "One-stop shopping."

He's not sure how many super mailboxes there are in Chilliwack, but figures they had about 350 break-ins and thefts last year.

"There's no security in these boxes. You can pop a door open very easily and get in with a crowbar, plus, it's not hard to design a tool to get into those doors."

When a box is broken into, the owner reports that to police and then makes a call to the control centre who brings in a contractor to repair it.

But when it comes to fixing them, sometimes there's a delay because contractors are simply overwhelmed.

Butcher gives the example of Ryder Lake, a community hit hard by mail thieves, and how some residents are driving all the way to downtown Chilliwack to pick up their mail because their boxes haven't been repaired.

"There are people who've had their mailbox broken into before Christmas and they're still not fixed. There's so many they just can't keep up and that's unacceptable."

If more are installed, there will be more tampering and vandalism and more thefts. As recently as Thursday, Chilliwack Mounties responded to a report of mail theft. Residents also say they don't feel safe at the tin monoliths, especially after dark.

Butcher doesn't believe that the Corporation is as bad off as they make it out to be and that it's all smoke and mirrors in order to get on with their real agenda which is to privatize the company. He insists the Corporation has only lost money once in the last ten years, and points his finger at Spin Doctors for fudging the numbers.

"It just seems that's what's happening. But if you privatize it, what kind of service are you going to get? A universal public post office is the way to go — one price for a stamp to mail anywhere in Canada."

He says the Canadian Union of Postal Workers has come up with some solutions like postal banking at outlets.

"There's thousands of communities out there that do not have a bank in their community, and what do they have in town? A post office."

Another bone of contention is that CEO Deepak Chopra, is sitting on a review panel and Butcher calls that's a conflict of interest because he's consulting as well.

"How can the CEO of a company who's making $500,000 a year, with 22 Vice Presidents making four-figure salaries, be unbiased in his report?" he asks. "Plus, he owns Pitney Bowes, so he's still getting a cut of money from these machines that companies have to use for their postage."

"In my mind, I think it's a conflict of interest," he said.

"What I'd like to see is an independent study, an in-depth financial review," concluded Butcher.

CUPW Local 741 will have a booth set up at the Home Show January 24-26 at Heritage Park and Butcher invites residents to drop by with letters of concern which they will forward to Strahl's office.
 

 

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