The Canada Post union local in Edmonton says management has failed to properly protect employees during the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing the risk of front-line postal workers transmitting the novel coronavirus to the public as demand for parcel delivery skyrockets.
Hand sanitizer and personal protective equipment, like masks and gloves, are scarce in the Edmonton-area depots, and management has been slow to implement stringent social-distancing rules, said Roland Schmidt, Edmonton president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers.
“It is sad that people need to fight this hard for just really simple and reasonable provisions to keep them safe at work, especially while they are providing this essential service for Canadians during this crisis,” Schmidt said in an interview this week.
“But that is the reality that we are facing as postal workers here in Edmonton.”
The union represents about 2,300 employees locally and nearly 50,000 across Canada.
Schmidt said he and three other full-time staffers with the union local have been inundated with phone calls, texts, and emails from postal workers concerned that management is risking their health — and that of their customers — by not enforcing proper safety protocols at their facilities.
Schmidt said as far as he knows, only two of Edmonton’s nine major postal facilities are practising adequate social distancing.
In addition to pushing for hand sanitizer and personal protective equipment, the union is pressuring management to stagger more shifts. It also wants managers to take attendance with a clipboard instead of having employees punch in using the normal swipe-pass system.
“We probably already would have taken job action if it wasn’t for the fact that we understand this is a crisis, we understand that we play an important role in helping Canadians,” Schmidt said.
“But the truth is that if we can’t do it safely, we are a greater risk to Canadians than if we weren’t doing the service. So if we get contaminated, that is bad news for Canada.”
Employees pressuring management
On Monday afternoon, about 10 employees at Edmonton’s processing plant refused to use their pass cards, Schmidt said. He said the system forces employees to touch a machine that is not sanitized between uses and often leads to workers on the same shift congregating in groups. An investigation into the incident is ongoing.
Schmidt said Canada Post is now letting employees refrain from swiping their cards during their shifts — for example, when they take breaks — but is still directing staff to use them as they arrive at work.
Management has shown some willingness to listen to employee concerns but isn’t moving fast enough, Schmidt said. He said what little change has occurred is largely due to pressure from employees.
He said Canada Post recently retreated on a guarantee that temporary employees would be granted the same paid special leave afforded their permanent counterparts should they need to self-isolate.
Canada Post ‘doing everything possible’
Canada Post spokesperson Jon Hamilton said the organization has not reneged on any leave agreements for temporary staff. He said Canada Post has social-distancing protocols in place at most, if not all, of its facilities, including post offices. Any locations that were slower to implement those protocols will be doing so immediately, he said.
“We are doing everything possible to ensure that we are providing a safe work environment,” Hamilton said.
He said while public health officials have not recommended masks for staff, Canada Post is working to ensure employees across the country have access to hand sanitizer and gloves, which he said are already available in many facilities. Supply shortages have made securing those products in bulk more challenging, he said.
“We are promoting proper hand-washing, as regularly as possible, through the facilities that we have, and we are providing the equipment that we can,” he said.
Janitorial staff who clean Canada Post’s facilities are being brought in more regularly and are doing more intensive cleaning, Hamilton said.
On Tuesday, Canada Post announced it is reducing its hours and installing clear barriers at post office counters in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It has also suspended on-time guarantees for all parcel services until further notice.
Similar concerns across Prairies
But Lana Smidt, the union’s Prairies director, said the concerns Schmidt raises are similar to those of other local presidents.
“The reporting from the presidents is that a lot of offices were not being provided with the hand sanitizer, gloves or masks; [lack of] social distancing in the offices is a problem; delivering to businesses is a problem,” she said, adding she has heard many concerns that no additional deep cleaning is being done at facilities.
Last week, a Canada Post employee created a petition calling on the organization to better protect employees by halting non-essential mail delivery, enforcing social-distancing rules, supplying personal protective equipment, and staggering shift start times.
More than 8,600 people had signed the petition as of Tuesday afternoon.
Employees may start refusing work
Schmidt said the demand for parcel delivery is “through the roof” as more Canadians self-isolate, and Canada Post needs to ensure the people delivering those parcels are healthy.
He said the union will give management a few days to implement better safety protocols and then, at least locally, staff may start exercising their right to refuse unsafe work.
“You better believe that if postal workers aren’t given proper provisions to make absolutely sure that they are doing their jobs safely, we could actually be ground zero for this getting out of hand in Canada,” Schmidt said.
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