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									Submitted as a Full Paper

                            Becoming Employees:
            The Case of Canada’s Rural and Suburban Mail Carriers


                            Andrea Noack and Norene Pupo

In January 2004, after almost a decade of organizing by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers
(CUPW), Canada's Rural and Suburban Mail Carriers (RSMCs) became full-time employees of
the federal government. Prior to this landmark collective agreement, RSMCs worked as
independent contractors, each individually negotiating his/her own routes and compensation. To
have a group of workers move en masse from the status of 'contractor' to the status of 'employee'
is quite unusual in the current economic context, which has seen corporations and the state
reduce their number of employees in favour of contracting out. Through mail surveys and in-
depth interviews, we investigate how becoming unionized federal employees has affected the
everyday working conditions of RSMCs. In particular, we focus on how this change in status has
affected the way that people think about their work, their new status as union members, and
themselves as workers.

Within a climate of economic uncertainty and restructuring, North American workers are
challenged by the increasingly difficult task of locating and retaining secure and meaningful
employment. Transformations within workplaces in response to global economic pressures,
changing labour markets, and the technological reorganizations have heavily impacted workers‘
sense of security by blurring the boundaries between core and marginal workers, and between
good jobs and bad jobs. Even jobs in the public sector, once thought to provide security for life,
are now viewed with a different lens as the state adopts new strategies for labour market
development and embraces reorganization within its core services (Evans and Shields, 1998;
McBride, 2001). New measures of corporate accountability and new forms of regulation have
prompted the state to transform its internal structures and administrative arrangements. In
response to pressures to remain competitive within the global economy, this state reorganization
has entailed a variety of cost-cutting measures that affect what services are provided and how
they are delivered, which has fundamentally transformed the public sector workplace (Teeple,
1995; Albo, 2010).
        Despite the challenges to the state presented by recent economic transformations, few
researchers are focusing on restructuring and changing work arrangements within the public
sector or on public workers‘ reactions to these changes. Yet changing working conditions within
the public sector—including devaluing or deskilling certain categories of work and eliminating
some forms of work altogether—are giving rise to questions regarding job security and as a
consequence, the risks and benefits to the general public. This is a study of work and agency
amongst rural and suburban mail carriers (RSMCs) and the Canadian Postal Workers Union
(CUPW), which has been relentless in its attempt to organize these precarious workers.
        Understanding work restructuring within the public sector entails a complex and detailed
consideration of the movement of work from the public domain to the realm of private enterprise
as well as to the sphere of unpaid work. The state as employer is caught between competing
forces: the need to respond to global economic pressures and remain competitive within a
market-driven economy and the pressures to adopt new structures to advance equity gains, to
uphold collective bargaining legislation, and to improve upon security, opportunity and
citizenship rights. Transformations within the public sector have redefined the ways in which
public service work is organized and managed. Some of the recent changes within the public
sector that have affected working conditions and access to work include privatization and
deregulation, contracting out, commercialization, the introduction of new management practices,
including the use of technologies, and the process of casualization, including reliance on
temporary work agencies (Stinson, 2010). These changes, in turn, affect public service workers'
sense of well-being and security, as well as their expectations regarding access to work. The
reorganization of public sector work also affect state-sponsored programs and the delivery of
social services (Broad and Antony, 2006).
        The case of Canada‘s rural and suburban mail carriers is unique because it has challenged
the trend towards contracting out in the public service (Fudge, 2005), by allowing a group of
contracted workers to acquire employee status and collective bargaining rights en masse. By
orchestrating this transition, CUPW has confronted the general culture of antagonism toward
unions—what has been referred to as ―assaults‖ on trade union freedoms (Panitch and Swartz,
2003). Previously, rural and suburban mail carriers had been deemed "independent contractors"
under the Canada Post Act. These workers signed onto contracts to work exclusively for Canada
Post and by doing so, they were responsible, as any small business, for their operating expenses,
for finding their own replacements for leaves and vacations, and for maintaining their vehicles.
Their contracts afforded no benefits and they were not entitled to employment insurance or
workers‘ compensation (Fudge, 2005: 57). On all fronts, these workers were precariously
employed. They worked as own-account members of the self-employed labour force and had
very few measures of protection. Contracts were individually negotiated, but in general, paid
poorly – especially since the actual hours of work varied widely depending on mail volume and
road and weather conditions. As these workers became more disgruntled and compared their own
circumstances to those of Canada Post's unionized employees, the lure of ―independence‖ as
self-employed contractors weakened. The campaign of those pressing to acquire employee status
was fuelled by a growing recognition amongst drivers that they were increasingly burdened by
heavy loads of admail, circulars and other materials for which they were not compensated. The
rural routers were a cheap pool of labour for Canada Post, a corporation which has increasingly
found themselves operating in a highly commercialized and competitive industry, and thus
adopted management techniques and processes proven to be lucrative in the commercial sector
(ILO, 1998). After years of struggle, however, the Canadian Supreme Court ruled in favour of
the rural routers. Rural and suburban mail carriers who had previously operated as independent
contractors won regular employment status under Section 13.5 of the Canada Post Act, and
hence the right to be organized by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW).
        This paper examines these workers‘ experience in making the transition from self-
employment under exclusive contract to employee status within the Canada Post Corporation.
We examine these workers‘ experiences of this transition and what they perceive as the
advantages and disadvantages of their new status. While we focus on examining the impact of
change ―on the ground‖ and at ―local‖ levels, we are mindful of the context of national and
global structures within which the Canadian public sector operates.

How the Study was Done
In the summer of 2007, CUPW approached the Centre for Research on Work and Society about
researching the experiences of RSMC members. In particular, CUPW was interested in learning
more about how RSMCs had experienced the transition to becoming employees and union
members. The union was also interested in knowing more about the working conditions and
concerns of RSMCs before the next round of bargaining.
        In Fall 2007, a mail survey and semi-structured interview guide were developed by the
research team, and pre-tested with union members. CUPW staff translated the research materials
into French and provided mailing labels for all RSMC members. On January 28, 2008, 6204
RSMCs were mailed a bilingual survey package containing an information letter, a four-page
survey, and a postage paid return envelope. Ten days after the initial mailing, a bilingual
reminder postcard was sent to all members, thanking them if they had already completed a
survey, and reminding them to return their survey if they had not already done so. In total, 2197
RSMC members returned a survey (a 35% response rate). It is not possible to determine how the
perceptions and experiences of members who did not return the questionnaire differ from the
perceptions and experiences of members who did return the questionnaire. It is likely that those
RSMCs who did return the survey felt more strongly (either positively or negatively) about the
changes to their workplace as a result of unionization.
        The final question on the mail survey asked respondents whether they would be willing to
take part in a confidential telephone interview, and if so, to provide a first name and a phone
number. Forty percent of respondents agreed to be interviewed. One hundred and five potential
interviewees were randomly selected from those who volunteered; care was taken to ensure that
the selected interviewees were demographically representative of respondents overall on
characteristics such as province, gender, visible minority status, disability status and rural/urban
status. In Summer and Fall 2008, 50 semi-structured interviews were completed, in which
respondents were asked to provide more detail about their experiences as a RSMC. Interviews
lasted from 20 minutes to more than an hour. Although no one explicitly declined to be
interviewed after volunteering, many selected interviewees could not be contacted after multiple
        The survey data was entered into the Statistical Program for the Social Sciences (SPSS)
in Spring 2008. All interviews and written comments were transcribed; French comments and
interviews were translated into English. Descriptive statistics were produced for the quantitative
data and the main themes were identified in the qualitative data. Analyzed together, the
quantitative and qualitative results provide a rich description of the working conditions and
experiences of rural and suburban mail carriers in Canada.

Who works as a Rural or Suburban Mail Carrier?
Despite popular culture representations of the ‗mailman‘, rural and suburban mail carriers are
overwhelmingly women. Only three in ten (28%) survey respondents were men. The average age
of respondents was 51 (s.d=10.3), with the middle 50% of respondents aged between 45 and 59.
Seventy-eight percent of respondents were married, but only 29% of respondents had children
under the age of 18 living at home with them. Visible minorities and aboriginals are slightly
under-represented compared to the general Canadian population; 12% of respondents were
visible minorities compared to 15% of Canadians overall and 3% of respondents were aboriginal
compared to 4% of Canadians overall (Statistics Canada 2006). Most respondents worked in
Ontario (33%) and Quebec (29%); fewer respondents were from Eastern Canada (17%) and
Western Canada (21%). Just under a third of respondents (29%) completed the survey in French,
and thus are likely Francophones. Ninety-two percent (92%) of the Francophone respondents
worked in Quebec. Approximately three out of five respondents (58%) had only a high school
diploma, and an additional one in five respondents (21%) had a college diploma. A smaller
proportion of respondents (16%) do not have a high school diploma.
        The more typical RSMC worker, then, appears to be an older, married woman, whose
children have moved away from home, or who has not had children. As is common for women
of this generation, the majority of respondents have not acquired post-secondary education.
Employment as an RSMC allows these older women to work in their communities in a position
which does not require either advanced educational qualifications or heavy physical labour.
        RSMCs generally have a long tenure in their position. On average, respondents have
worked for Canada Post for 13 years (as either an independent contractor or an employee). Only
14% of respondents had started in their jobs since the CUPW unionization 4 years ago. One in
five respondents had worked for CPC for 20 years or more. RSMCs also tend to have started
their position later in life, suggesting that this may be a second (or third) career for many
carriers. On average, respondents started working for Canada Post at age 38; the middle 50% of
respondents started working for CPC between ages 31 and 45.
        Prior to becoming members of CUPW in January 2004, survey respondents had a range
of statuses. The vast majority of respondents (69%) worked one or more routes alone prior to
January 2004; for these workers the transition to becoming employees of Canada Post would
have been the least disruptive. Only 16% of respondents had some other contracting arrangement
prior to January 2004; the majority of these were people who shared routes with other family
members. Very few survey respondents (1.4%) had worked as master contractors who bid on
routes and then sub-contracted them to other workers. It is likely that many of these master
contractors opted not to become employees or left their position shortly after becoming
employees. The remaining (14%) of respondents had not worked for Canada Post prior to

The Experience of Working as a Rural or Suburban Mail Carrier
RSMCs work out of two types of offices: Canadian Postmaster and Assistant (CPAA) offices
and Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) offices. These two designations refer to which
union represents the inside workers – such as postmasters, sorters, and counter staff – in a postal
office. There has historically been an ongoing competition for membership between the two
unions. CUPW typically represents mail workers in urban and suburban areas, and the larger
union, with about 54,000 members. The CPAA typically represents mail workers in rural areas
and currently has about 6,500 members. All mail carriers are represented by CUPW, regardless
of which union represents the inside staff in their office. Carriers working out of offices
unionized by CPAA are thought of as ‗rural‘ mail carriers, whereas carriers working out of
offices unionized by CUPW offices are referred to as ‗suburban‘ mail carriers. In this sample,
slightly more than half of respondents (53%) work out of CPAA offices and the remainder work
out of CUPW offices.
        Most respondents work in small offices, with few other RSMCs. Half of respondents
work out of offices with four or fewer inside staff, and three quarters of respondents work out of
offices with ten or fewer inside staff. Sixteen percent of respondents report that they are the only
RSMC working out of their office; and half of respondents report that there are three or fewer
other RSMCs working out of their offices. Only 5% of respondents work in offices where there
are twenty or more other RSMC workers. As expected, workers in CPAA offices reported that
there were substantially fewer inside staff and substantially fewer RSMCs than workers in
CUPW offices. The result is a bargaining unit whose members have a wide diversity of local
issues and working conditions. Many workers have few other members to talk to about their
experiences and concerns as an RSMC. In rural areas, post offices are often geographically
distant from each other, which makes it more challenging to bring people together at meetings or
to promote a sense of solidarity with other union members. In some offices, RSMC members
work alongside CUPW members in the urban letter carriers (LC) bargaining unit, who receive
more compensation for doing the same work. This has resulted in increased tension and
competition between the bargaining units within the union.
        RSMCs commonly report working four (12%), five (17%), six (19%) or seven (15%)
scheduled hours each day. Half of respondents work 6 scheduled hours a day or less, and half
work more than this. On average, rural mail carriers report having less scheduled hours each day
than suburban mail carriers (5.4 hours compared to 6.2 hours). Only half of respondents (50%)
report that their routes take about as long as their scheduled hours. Fourty-four percent (44%) of
respondents report that their routes take longer than scheduled, suggesting that the scheduled
hours do not necessarily reflect the amount of actual working time. Many report feeling ―rushed
to finish in the time allowed.‖ One carrier stated emphatically: ―I HATE the way our routes are
not even close to time allotted.‖ Suburban mail carriers were more likely to report that their
routes take longer than scheduled, whereas rural mail carriers were more likely to say that their
routes take as long as scheduled. Unexpectedly, 6% of respondents say that their routes actually
take less time than scheduled.
        The question of scheduled hours is closely linked to fairness in pay. A common sentiment
amongst the RSMCs was captured by the simple declaration: ―I‘m sick of Canada Post nickel
and diming us.‖ About one in five respondents (22%) say that they would like to work more
hours as a mail carrier. When asked whether they would prefer to work more hours, however,
many interviewees indicated that they are already ―overworked and underpaid.‖ As one RSMC
suggested, ―Would [I] like to work more hours? I‘d like to get paid for the hours I work now. I
would like to work full time AND be paid full time wages.‖ About one in five respondents (22%)
report that they have other regular employment in addition to their work as a mail carrier.
        Many carriers blame their meager pay cheques on the inadequate way in which their
employment conditions as contractors were blended with newly established conditions as
employees. For example, a carrier explained that, ―After taking gas and insurance off my pay
cheque and car maintenance (tires & brakes), I just make over minimum wage. [I] cannot hardly
earn a living.‖ However, according to this carrier, raising wages does not seem to be prioritized
by the union. ―[The] union keeps increasing other benefits, when wages should be first. RSMCs
should be making equal to regular mail carriers.‖ Another carrier explained that, ―Job parity
seems way off and yet really, really needs to be addressed. For the hours I work I shouldn‘t need
to work at another job. And as RSMC we cannot even get an interview for an inside CUPW job
opening. And when [we are] required to work overtime hours, we should be paid accordingly –
not constantly denied.‖
        While a number of rural carriers describe the pleasure they derive from the countryside
and wildlife scenery they experience during their working days, images of such serenity conflict
with the intensified working conditions and time pressures that many carriers experience. They
describe themselves as ―working robots‖, as ―sweat shop‖ workers, and explain that on some
days they ―feel like a packhorse.‖ During the process of becoming an employee of Canada Post,
each route was evaluated for performance time and carriers are now paid according to those
evaluation results, regardless of weather conditions or any other extenuating factors, such as
numerous heavy parcels, deliveries requiring signatures, and unaddressed admail which
necessitates a stop at every home on the route. According to many carriers, ―the time values were
increased but not the wages.‖ As a result a number report that they ―make less [per] hour now‖
than before. Yet, we [are] so over burdened with mail and personal contact items, [especially]
every Monday. We all go way over our scheduled hours. … I do not even have time to take a
break for coffee or lunch. Every day I have worked straight through, no breaks … I am getting
fed up.‖
        Some RSMCs blame ―the amazingly ‗unfair‘ route management system that is currently
in place for the inequality they experience compared to other postal workers and for the
unevenness in their own wages. They complain that their jobs are ―grossly underrated‖ and that
rates are ―not at all fair for workload expected.‖ Moreover, there is ―unfair discipline imposed if
you don‘t finish your job even if you aren‘t paid.‖ The process to rectify such injustice—the
―slowness of corrective action through grievance process‖—also presents undue difficulty. Most
would agree that their work has become more bureaucratized since becoming employees. A
carrier explains: ―We have to do more, for example, … write down tracking numbers on every
parcel we receive. Take C.O.D.‘s and custom parcels to the door and collect money.‖ As a
result, ―an RSMC is over worked and under paid. The employer is getting rich on our backs.‖
The process of trying to standardize compensation across RSMCs that was associated with the
process of becoming an employee revealed many of the discrepancies in routes and
compensation between carriers that were the result of individual contracts and negotiation for
each route. The union is now being called upon to bring more equal compensation to all carriers,
at the same time that rural routers' workloads are increasing.

Table 1: Working Conditions of RSMCs (n=2197)1
     Other people working in my office treat me with respect

                 I have some control over how I do my work

              My work is routinely monitored by supervisors

              It is hard for me to find a vacation replacement

     I can arrange my work hours in order to fit my schedule

                                           My job is stressful

    I can get help if I need to take a day off in an emergency

                                                                 0   20        40           60            80   100

                                                                          Strongly Agree   Mostly Agree

  Respondents who did not answer the question or who indicated that the item did not apply to them are excluded on
a question by question basis.
        The most troubling issues for RSMCs are around finding vacation replacements,
arranging work hours, and getting help if they needed to take a day off in an emergency (see
Table 1). As one carrier said, ―I do not know of another employer in Canada that makes the
employee find their own replacement, process the paperwork, … (security etc), train them (on
duties and health/safety), and then pay for training time, etc. Certainly no other unionized
employee has to do this. We still have ALL the Responsibility of self-employed, NONE of the
benefits of self employed."
        Approximately 4 out of 10 respondents (38%) strongly agreed that it was hard to find a
vacation replacement, and 6 out of 10 respondents (62%) agreed that this was hard. Among the
respondents, 18% reported that they had not taken a vacation in the past 12 months. It was most
common for RSMCs to take three weeks of vacation in the past year; 45% of respondents say
that they took 14 or 15 vacation days in the past 12 months. Twelve percent (12%) of
respondents took more than three weeks of vacation, and the remaining 43% of respondents took
less than three weeks of vacation time in the past year.
        Less than half of respondents (48%) agreed that they could get help if they needed to take
a day off for an emergency. Only 16% of respondents reported taking at least one sick day in the
past 12 months. Among that group, 41% (7% overall) took only one or two sick days. The
relatively low rate of sick days may be motivated in part by the fact that it is difficult to find an
emergency replacement. Respondents with children living with them were much more likely to
disagree that they could get help if they needed to take a day off in an emergency. Among those
with children under aged 18 living with them, 41% strongly disagreed that could get help
(compared to 32% of those without children who strongly disagreed).
        Taken together, these results suggest that many of the benefits of becoming an employee
have not yet been realized. An RSMC confirms, ―It still costs me money every week to keep my
replacement trained and I don‘t think that should be part of my job.‖ Another agrees, saying,
―We train them, then they find other employment or can‘t do the job and leave. It‘s a bad
situation when you can‘t be sick ever or count on a vacation or an emergency.‖ Another referred
to the policy on replacements as completely absurd, setting apart RSMCs from other unionized
workers: ―… the most ridiculous [policy] of all is having to pay to train a sub. The postmaster
doesn‘t pay out of her/his pocket to train a casual worker. The area manager didn‘t pay out of
his pocket to train his replacement. Some ―Hoe Assembly Worker‖ at GM doesn‘t pay out of his
pocket to train someone so he can go on vacation.‖ A number of RSMCs referred to their outrage
over Canada Post‘s refusal grant them compassionate leave for deaths in the family or for
injuries, despite having doctors‘ notes justifying their requests. Even during a maternity leave, a
worker found herself completely ―stressed out‖ after she was contacted twice by her supervisor
after the replacement she had hired and trained had quit. In all cases, Canada Post would adhere
without exception to the contractor‘s agreement which specified responsibility for hiring,
training and paying for replacements. Most carriers are anxiously waiting for the union to
address this situation.

Perceptions of the Canada Post Corporation (CPC)
A number of the carriers differentiate between their commitment to their jobs and the
communities they serve and their new status as a Canada Post employee. Many point to the
―inconsistent and arbitrary rules and procedures‖ as a source of their dissatisfaction. Clearly a
number of carriers wrestle with their own notions of working in a public service and those of
their employer, who seems to be ―only in it for the money‖. As one carrier said, ―I enjoy my
work as an RSMC. I enjoy my customers. I dislike the unfair treatment from CPC management,
the discrimination and harassment which is ongoing daily.‖ Sources of dissatisfaction include
―the consistent violations of the RSMC collective agreement, … unfair wages and hours of work,
disrespect for our expenses to bring in helpers [or] replacement[s].‖
        A number of the carriers differentiated between the polished image of Canada Post, as a
Canadian icon and their experience as employees. One carrier elaborates on this distinction:
                … how did Canada Post become one of the best 100 organizations to work
                for in Canada? Let us NOT count the ways – first, the unfairness in
                treatment between Letter Carriers (LCs) and Rural and Suburban Mail
                Carriers (RSMCs) is a huge problem across Canada. One would have
                thought that once RSMCs become Canada Post employees, the slavery
                would end there after being a subcontractor. Not the case. The long hours
                that RSMCs work without any compensation coupled with heavy volumes
                of mail is shameful and discriminatory. [For example], RSMCs must take
                all parcels and lift 65 lbs compared to 35 lbs for LCs.
The tarnish on Canada Post‘s image, as this carrier suggests extends to inconsistent practices,
from depot to depot, affecting both workers and the Canadian public. Similarly, another carrier
was convinced that ―if the public only knew what really goes on in the Post office regarding the
employees‘ treatment, there would be a national outcry.‖ Along with such inconsistencies in
administering the regulations, many carriers focus on the differentiation between groups of
workers. For example, one RSMC suggested: ―At the depot I work out of there is so much
inequality between RSMCs and postal workers. Management is poor. [Supervisors] … along
with senior management at Canada Post really have no clue or don‘t care about what goes on in
―the trenches‖. As a result, ―here is absolutely no incentive and no motivation to work hard for
this company. Morale is at zero!‖ For many workers, the process of becoming a unionized
employee brought with it expectations of standardization and 'fairness' across all letter carriers.
Inconsistencies in treatment and compensation are now identified as problems for 'the union';
whereas previously RSMCs perceived that they had more flexibility in negotiating their contracts
(though it is not clear how much flexibility actually existed in a competitive contracting market).
        For a number of carriers, the inconsistencies and unfair treatment related to their new
status as employees is the result of management‘s attempt to simply slot them into pre-existing
frameworks. The level of frustration felt by RSMCs is captured by one who declared, ―I can not
put into words the dismay I feel at the treatment of Rural Carriers as a ―new‖ employee of a
Corporation.‖ This driver went on to list the problems: ―the hassles around pay, hours worked,
forced overtime, no benefits, no right to strike, lack of appreciation, lack of understanding of the
rigors of our work, lack of help finding right hand drive vehicles, $500 000 spent on …
department of safety investigations, ―ergos‖ (ergonomics studies) paid out of our wages cap, all
make me feel like a second class employee.‖ Many carriers provided similar lists of complaints
and summarized their treatment as leading to ―feeling second class,‖ regarded as a ―poor
cousins,‖ being ―at the bottom of the totem pole‖, and ―treated by CPC no better than Child Rug
Weavers in India.‖ As a result carriers frequently referred to their jobs as having two sides: ―The
good part about the job is the freedom to work independently, to a large extent. The downside is
the great injustice being shown for years to rural mail couriers versus letter couriers. The
difference in treatment is absolutely absurd and is very hard to understand, leading to a feeling of
being a second class employee!‖
        Being made to feel like rookies was particularly offensive to the RSMCs, most of whom
were seasoned carriers. As contractors, these workers enjoyed their independence and now abhor
the level of supervision their new status entailed. Many felt demeaned by the way in which
supervisors differentiated between inside workers and RSMCs. For example, ―Our supervisor
refers to the inside workers as ‗staff‘ and then we are ‗RSMC‘s‘. I believe we are staff also. We
are always overlooked on ‗heavy mail days‘. The ‗staff‘ gets praised for a hard day‘s work but
we are forgotten‖ regardless of the ability to deliver mail daily even under extreme conditions. In
these comments, we see a change in RSMCs attitudes towards their work; as 'independent
contractors', the motivation to do a good job was seen as intrinsic to being self-employed,
whereas as employees, RSMCs expect rewards and recognition from their employer for their
contributions to the public service.
        Overall, RSMCs agreed that they were treated with respect and had some control over
their working conditions. Approximately 85% of respondents ‗strongly‘ or ‗mostly‘ agreed that
the other people in their office treated them with respect and that they had some control over
their work. Nevertheless, they often struggle with image. A number noted that they would
appreciate recognition for their efforts from both the public as well as their employer. For
example, one said, ―Most people think a moron could do this job. I‘d love some reporter to
shadow an RSMC and write about what we really do.‖ Noting that the union also overlooks the
value of their work, another said:
                I find the attitude that the high paid staff have towards RSMCs is terrible.
                This includes on the job site as well as at local meetings, etc. It seems to
                me we‘re just pawns – CUPW wanted more money and more numbers. …
                they served us this terrible contract and stuck it to us until 2011 … And in
                the mean time, we‘re supposed to be glad to be treated like mushrooms.
        According to a number of the carriers, the reason for their lack of recognition in the
workplace relates to their previous status as ―‗contractors‘ not employees, therefore less
important.‖ A predominant sentiment amongst RSMCs is that they ―are still second class
citizens within the Corporation and CUPW.‖ In general there seems to be fractiousness and
divisions between urban and rural carriers. A former contractor elaborates on the common false
impressions of rural carriers, saying ―most of our public and also our fellow workers think we sit
on our butts and do nothing and make all kinds of money.‖ Another agrees but faults the
differentiation in contracts for maintaining the inequality, noting: ―Our postal supervisors are not
interested in moving things forward to equal us to the postal workers. We are at the bottom of
the totem pole and our work is not respected. We have very little say and are just the rural
workers. Same work equals same pay, same respect. … We should have been in the urban
contract from the very beginning. We do the same work.‖

Rural and Suburban Mail Carriers' Attitudes towards Unionization
Respondents were asked whether – overall – their job had gotten better, stayed the same, or
gotten worse since becoming unionized in January 2004. Among respondents who were working
for Canada Post prior to 2004, 43% said that their job had stayed the same. Thirty-nine percent
(39%) of respondents said that their job had gotten better, while only 19% of respondents said
that their jobs had gotten worse. Those who had a single route which they contracted themselves
were slightly more likely to say that their jobs had gotten better (40% compared to 33%),
whereas those with some other type of contracting arrangement were slightly more likely to say
that their jobs had gotten worse (27% to 17%).
       Overall, respondents were relatively positive about unionization. Four out of five
respondents (79%) agreed that the union could negotiate a better deal than they could on their
own, and 36% strongly agreed with this sentiment (see Table 2). Similarly, three out of five
respondents (58%) indicated that being unionized had made a big difference in their everyday
work. Fewer respondents agreed that the union doesn‘t care much about them (35%) and that it
would be better off if they had never joined the union (21%).

Table 2: RSMCs Attitudes Towards Unionization (n=2197)2

         Respondents with different educational backgrounds expressed clear differences in
attitudes towards unionization. Those without a post-secondary education were more likely to
agree that being unionized had made a big difference in their work and that the union could
negotiate a better deal for them than they could on their own. Workers with post-secondary
education were more likely to say that their union does not care about them, and that it would be
better if they had not joined the union. There were also clear regional and linguistic variations in
terms of support for unionization. Respondents from Quebec and Eastern Canada (and those who
replied in French) were the most likely to agree that the union could negotiate a better deal for
them and that unionization had made a big difference in their working conditions. Respondents
from Ontario and Western Canada (and those who replied in English) were more likely to agree
that their union does not care about rural routers and that they should never have joined the
union. Age, gender, visible minority status and the presence of children in the household seem
not to be related to attitudes towards unionization. There are also no clear trends in terms of
people‘s previous contract status or how long they had been working for Canada Post in relation
to their attitudes towards unionization.
         It is not surprising that those without a post-secondary education are more supportive of
unionization. Unionization typically brings benefits to workers who would be otherwise
disadvantaged in the labour market. The regional and linguistic variations in support for
unionization likely reflect the variations in political regimes across the country. Typically
Western Canadian provinces tend to support more conservative political regimes, which are
associated with an emphasis on independence and free markets and a dislike of unionization. In

  Respondents who did not answer the question or who indicated that the item did not apply to them are excluded on
a question by question basis.
contrast, the political history of Quebec has been one which reflects a social democratic political
outlook that is ideologically compatible with collective bargaining.
        While there is general support for the union and working in a unionized environment, a
number of people expressed concerned about this union‘s priorities and its ability to negotiate a
decent contract and to achieve parity with other CUPW members. For example, one RSMC
suggests, ―Our routes should have been adjusted as soon as we became employees as a lot of
these things were incorrect at that time.‖ The transition period had been very difficult because
many of the RSMCs assumed that as soon as they acquired union status, they would be on par
with letter carriers who were long-time union members. Many felt that their years of experience
and ability to do their jobs with little supervision were dismissed or ignored. ―We are still treated
like contractors, are put under a lot of pressure [and] we are told how wrong it is when we make
a mistake.‖ However, the ―obvious division of fairness and equality between RSMC‘s and letter
carriers‖ was usually regarded as ―perpetuated by management.‖
        Some carriers who were not impressed by their first collective agreement questioned the
union‘s concerns for ―members [rather] than just their members‘ money‖ and expressed cynicism
about whether the vote for unionization had been ―fair and transparent.‖ One carrier voiced the
opinion that ―CUPW wanted RSMC as a leverage in striking and [now] they … have what they
want. So who cares about RSMCs?‖ Another said that RSMCs ―are just a bargaining chip for
urban workers.‖ Some were ―feeling like we got the shaft‖ and were directly hit in the
pocketbook because unionization brought regulation and standardization, and this meant, for
example, that members saw themselves ―stuck paying out money for extra car insurance for
Canada Post, for the privilege of using our own vehicles for work‖ while the union spent time on
banal issues such as bi-weekly pay schedules.
        A number of RSMCs see the union as interfering with their autonomy (and their status as
contractors), as one said: ―I hate when the union is sticking their nose in my job when all is and
was going good … When I was a contractor the union couldn‘t touch me.‖ Others see the union
just as an added layer of bureaucracy. For example, ―Since we were forced to join the union,
[there are] far too many rules and regulations. This is making us less productive and efficient in
the work place.‖ Those who view the union in a negative light regard it as responsible for
standardization and numerous new rules regarding routes, job/time evaluations, and ultimately
loss of pay. According to one carrier, ―In the sixteen years as a contractor, you where allowed as
much work as you could do and be paid for it. Now it‘s one route to one person which means
less money in your pay cheque. Since Sept 2004 it‘s more admail, to-the-door deliveries and less
money. Each route should be evaluated.‖
        Despite these complaints, there were some clear benefits to unionization for many
workers. For instance, one aspect of the unionization campaign was providing health, dental and
vision benefits to employees. More than half of respondents (53%) report making a claim for
health, dental or vision benefits in the past 12 months. Another major benefit to becoming a
unionized employee is increased job security - the fact that ―Can Post can‘t put your route up for
bids because they want it done cheaper.‖ At this point, it is clear that many workers are weighing
these benefits against the perceived 'costs' of becoming an employee – decreased autonomy,
more standardization and increased bureaucratic regulations.
The Canadian Union of Postal Workers‘ relentless drive to challenge Canada Post‘s practice of
contracting out the delivery of rural mail is a bold statement about upholding workers‘ rights to
organize. It also represents an important challenge to the state‘s neo-liberal agenda, destabilizing
the plan to maintain a lean labour force by offloading a host of public services and to incorporate
business practices into the public sector.
         Moving from contractor to employee status has clearly transformed the work experiences
of rural and suburban mail carriers. Despite Canada Post Corporation‘s image of strong public
service, the carriers pointed to the deplorable conditions under which they worked as contractors
and to their treatment as marginalized, precarious workers. While the carriers generally
embraced the union particularly for the job security unionization promises, the transition period
has been somewhat difficult and slow, leaving some members to question the value of their new
status as employees. Carriers are anxious to acquire rights and benefits on par with other postal
workers who have been long-time members of CUPW. Some of the issues that they have been
most anxious to resolve, including finding and training their own replacements, along with issues
related to the maintenance of their vehicles and routes, had not yet been addressed when the
survey was administered, and as a result some expressed their frustration with the process or with
the union and questioned the promises made during the organizing campaign. However, for
most, it is simply a matter of the union getting its priorities straight for subsequent rounds of
         Overall, most carriers are satisfied with their jobs and carry them out with a sense of
pride. They describe themselves as performing an important public service and they are looking
for respect, recognition, and adequate compensation. The public sees only one part of the job, the
mail delivery. The conditions under which carriers prepare for delivery remain hidden.
Preparing their routes, carriers work shoulder to shoulder with inside workers, and share space
with those whose conditions and remuneration are far superior. As a result, the working
conditions are wrought with tensions, leading some to question the value of the union in light of
such glaring inequalities.
         Ultimately the RSMCs want reassurance from the union that their concerns and their
―second class‖ status are being addressed and that their issues are taken into account as seriously
as those of other postal workers. A smoother transition may be contingent upon the union‘s
ability to make progress on the thorny issues and to reorganize carriers‘ work to shed the
―contractor model.‖ However, it is essential that the carriers with their vast ―on-the-ground‖
experience be involved in all steps in this process, so that they can truly embrace and appreciate
their status as unionized employees.

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