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Canadian Media Fails to Deliver: Media Coverage of Canada Post Labour Dispute Uncritical, Inaccurate

July 25, 2011
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BY KALEY KENNEDY, mediacoop.ca

On the morning of June 14, letter carriers across the country showed up to go to work as usual but Canada Post told them to go home; no mail was to be delivered that day. Those workers are full-time letter carriers who deliver mail in our communities Monday to Friday.

Locked out CUPW members in Halifax. Photo by Lesley Thompson.

While Canada Post claimed there was no work for the letter carriers, mail sat in the Halifax Canada Post plant, undelivered. Not even priority packages, which should be delivered by noon the day after they are shipped, were able to leave the facility. Indoor workers, who process and sort the mail were working – suggesting that there was mail that could have been delivered that day.

According to a twitter update from Ella Henry, a student activist in Fredericton, indoor workers were sent home after three hours of work, even though there was still mail to process. Fredericton workers had just come off a strike rotation, so the implication from Canada Post that there was no work for Fredericton workers, both indoor workers and letter carriers, is difficult to understand.

Despite these circumstances, the local hourly CBC radio broadcast in Halifax told listeners that Canada Post workers “consider themselves to be locked out” all day. A CBC News headline online reads, “Union calls postal service reduction ‘partial lockout.’”

The Canadian Labour Code states that a “lockout” “includes the closing of a place of employment, a suspension of work by an employer or a refusal by an employer to continue to employ a number of their employees, done to compel their employees, or to aid another employer to compel that other employer’s employees, to agree to terms or conditions of employment.”

Letter carriers showed up to work on Tuesday, and were told to go home because Canada Post decided no mail, not even mail that Canada Post guarantees delivery times on such as priority service, was to be delivered. This is very clearly a “suspension of work by the employer” and in the context of a rotating strike, very much “done to compel their employees… to agree to terms or conditions of employment.”

The workers were locked out by their employer, plain and simple. The addition of the caveat “consider themselves” casts doubt on a clear situation, and works in favour of the employer’s spin on the situation.

There are several complexities that reporters and editors may not be familiar with when it comes to labour reporting. For example, when the partial lockout occurred, the union representing the locked out workers, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), declared the locked out workers to be on strike. This is not because the workers chose to strike that day, but instead, by declaring those members on strike, the union was able to protect workers who were not locked out from being pressured or disciplined for refusing to do the work of their locked-out co-workers. It is the responsibility of reporters and editors who intend to cover labour issues to understand these issues in order to cover labour issues fairly and accurately.

This example, though, is just one small example of the corporate and public media’s lack of fair, critical and accurate coverage of the labour dispute.

Prior to both the rotating strikes and the lockout, news sources reporting on the labour negotiations repeatedly listed wages and benefits that Canada Post workers receive. At $26 per hour, a full-time worker makes about $54,000 per year. While this is higher than the median individual income of Canadian workers, it is well below the median household income of $68, 860. The sticking point has not been wages for current workers. The only place wages are concerned is in regards to implementing two-tiered wages – lower wages for new workers. These lower wages would see new workers paid about $10,000 less than the median Canadian income, and more than $30,000 below the median household income. We are talking about middle-income, stable, secure jobs. The kind of jobs that governments are arguing are necessary for economic recovery.

Many sources, including the CBC, have cited Canada Post’s statistic that mail volumes have fallen 17 percent since 2006. Overall, however, mail volumes have increased by 10 percent since 1997. Considering the worldwide economic recession that has been going on since at least 2008, it is understandable that mail volumes would be down. Also, the argument that more things are being done electronically needs to be examined. The internet has been around for a while now.

Also, there has been little to no investigation of why or how mail volumes are dropping. Are people using the mail less? Are people using other mail services? Has Canada Post lost contracts to private companies, or has it given contracts to Purolator, which it owns? Are all volumes down? It is very possible that letter mail volume is down, but parcel shipping is up (think about all the online shopping people do). Why isn’t the corporate and mainstream media looking into this?

Perhaps most frustrating is the incompatible arguments that on one hand mail is becoming irrelevant, and on the other, the disruption of the mail service has significant detrimental impacts on the economy. Canada Post and the Harper government can’t have it both ways, and I have yet to see a journalist take up this contradiction.

Repeatedly, articles have published that Canada Post has lost over $100 million during the labour dispute. This is a number that was put forward by Canada Post, and reporters have given no context for how the corporation arrived at that number. It seems that reporters have done little to question where that number comes from, how it was arrived at, and when those losses are from.

While rotating strikes presented delays in mail delivery, mail was still being delivered to the customer, something that postal workers were keeping in mind. While in a legal strike position, they could very well have held a nation-wide strike and stopped mail delivery all together. Instead, rotating strikes were implemented to balance the need to pressure Canada Post to bargain in good faith, and to continue to serve Canadians. Still, though, the corporate and mainstream media consistently repeated Canada Post’s rhetoric that service reductions, and the lockout were the fault of the union.

News sources have also completely failed to point out that workers who have been locked out are receiving no pay from Canada Post. Postal workers, like all Canadians, have families and bills and responsibilities and are being prevented from working by their employers. What is the economic impact of 48,000 workers being locked out? How much have workers seen in lost wages? What are workers doing to make up the lost wages? Are they borrowing more? Are they dipping into savings? Are bills being left unpaid?

Where is the corporate and mainstream media on all of these questions?

Deafeningly silent.

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