Canada Post officials are refuting a claim that the Crown corporation plans to cut staffing at the downtown Squamish post office as part of scheme that would eventually see the Cleveland Avenue office shut down.
John Bail, the Vancouver-based Pacific Region director for the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), on Feb. 22 said Canada Post has been privately telling the union it plans to trim staffing at the downtown facility from a minimum of two full-time employees to one full-time counter staff and one part-time person working in the backroom.
As of yet, the company hasn't said it plans to close the downtown office, Bail said. But that's the company's end game, he said.
“If they take that out of Squamish and just put one person in there, you're not going to get the level of service you're used to,” he said.
“That would create a situation where [customers] wouldn't be getting the customer support at that office and they would go to the Shoppers Drug Mart outlet,” Bail said, adding that after customer visitation numbers fell it would become easier to justify closing the Cleveland Avenue office.
Bail said a similar strategy is being employed across the country. The strategy, he said, has already been used in the closure of a post office in Chatham, Ont., and Canada Post has closed a couple of outlets in rural B.C.
Canada Post spokesperson John Caines on Wednesday (Feb. 27) said the company has no plans trim staff at the downtown office or elsewhere in Squamish. The only change that's in the works is the “de-twinning” of postal boxes.
That change will see the two outgoing boxes at local offices — one for letters staying in Squamish and one for out-of-town mail — reduced to one. Starting March 18, mail that's bound for postal customers in Squamish will be taken along with other mail to Vancouver to be sorted by machines that can sort some 30,000 items an hour. Local mail will then be returned to Squamish.
“The strategy is to bring all the mail, which can be sorted faster, to be sorted in larger facilities, then brought back into the local communities,” Caines said.
“Our customers won't notice any difference. It'll be fine.”
Canada Post has eight employees working at the downtown post office — four full-time, two part-time and two term fill-in workers — and four RSMCs (Rural Service Mail Carriers) who deliver mail to apartment complexes and such, said Jackie McBride, CUPW Squamish representative.
McBride said local staff first heard about the plan to trim staffing levels downtown in mid-January. “We just got through [agreeing on a new contract] in December and then we got this letter saying they were downsizing,” she said.
Canada Post's Anik Losier on Monday (Feb. 25) said the company is tightening its belt in response to changing business levels but denied that the end game is to close offices and trim staff en masse.
Over the past five years, Canada Post has seen a 20 per cent drop in the number of letters being handled —†it handles some 190 million per day —†and an increase of “five to six per cent” in the number of parcels, Losier said. In making changes, the company is merely trying to respond to those changes and increase efficiencies.
About 50 per cent of Canada Post's revenue comes from handling letters, while the costs associated with handling parcels are much higher than for handling letters, she said. The decline in letter traffic has a big impact on the corporation's bottom line, she said.
“It's a huge drop,” Losier said, “and you and I are just doing things differently these days. Even the Government of Canada is going to be issuing cheques online beginning next year. We just want do things efficiently so that we're able to maintain the service.”
Bail said CUPW recognizes that the number of letters being handled has seen a “slight” decline. The union's position is that the size of the drop in letters doesn't justify the type of cuts being bandied about. CUPW believes that as a Crown corporation, Canada Post has a mandate to maintain or improve service levels in both rural and urban areas, not look for ways to turn a bigger profit, he said.
Bail said the corporation's long-term plan is to trim staff through attrition and retirements, adding that CUPW believes that business that was created in Squamish should stay in Squamish.
However, Losier said, “As per the collective agreement, [local Canada Post employees] have job security, so [if staffing changes], they have to be reassigned to within 40 kilometres of where they are now, and that wouldn't even allow them to be reassigned to the Vancouver area.”