March 26, 2020

Workers Inform About Their
Fight to Contain COVID-19 by
Defending Their Rights

Postal Workers on the Front Lines Serving Canadians
Insist that Canada Post Ensure Its Workers Are Protected - Louis Lang
"We do this so that we can continue to provide the service" - Alain Robitaille

Quebec Construction Workers Achieve Initial Successes
Stepping Up the Fight for Safe and Healthy Working Conditions

Postal Workers on the Front Lines Serving Canadians

Insist that Canada Post Ensure
Its Workers Are Protected

As the fight against the COVID-19 outbreak requires large portions of the population to self-quarantine, the service provided by postal workers is more important than ever to keep lines of communication open at a time on-line shopping becomes a main means households are using to provision themselves. Enabling postal workers to carry out their tasks means that workers in sortation plants, retail offices and letter carrier and rural and suburban mail carrier depots must be provided with equipment and working conditions they require to ensure their safety on a daily basis.

While Canada Post has been quick to announce that the corporation, "will continue to operate during this unprecedented time" and that "we will do everything we can to keep this country's Postal Service going," postal workers' needs to perform their work in a safe manner have been systematically ignored. Postal workers' concerns are not only for their own safety but for that of the public as well.

In many work places the corporation has failed to allow the Joint Health and Safety Committees at various levels to be involved in the regular monitoring of the conditions of work. Properly functioning Joint Health and Safety Committees are required by the Canada Labour Code and the committees are required to post reports of their work on all work floors. These requirements have been systematically ignored and workers are left in the dark about what safety measures are being taken. Moreover, in the absence of a serious consultation mechanism between management and the workers' representatives and between the workers' representatives and the workers, workers who raise concerns about their health and safety are being defamed as chronic complainers, and the complaints are dismissed.

Postal workers report that work processes have not been changed to allow for the required social distancing. This is taking place not only in plants but also for letter carriers who have to continue using cabs to go to their routes. This means that many workers are in and out of the cabs all day creating a risk with each ride.

In some cases there are two workers sorting at frames that are designed for one person. Another concern is that Canada Post has not increased the size of the cleaning staff in letter carrier depots and sortation plants. This means that a workplace which is dusty and dirty in normal times is now becoming a serious health hazard as workstations are neither cleaned nor sterilized on a regular daily basis. This level of cleaning must be done at least once a day which requires a larger cleaning staff. The lack of proper cleaning and sterilizing on work floors also applies to break rooms and restrooms. Many plants and work areas also report that hand sanitizer dispensers have been empty for days and gloves are not available. Instead of providing the problem with a viable solution, perpetually empty bottles of hand sanitizer are not considered a problem.

It is clear that the corporation has been negligent in providing health and safety measures for work processes and the equipment needed to keep postal workers safe.

A bulletin issued by the national office of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers on March 22 to update workers about recent meetings with Canada Post Corporation (CPC) senior management clearly shows the negligence of the corporation. The bulletin states, "Management stated they expected to receive a shipment of nitrile gloves in two or three days. Concerning the liquid sanitizer and sanitizing wipes, CPC is discussing with the government to get on their priority procurement list. They have also set up a process where management or employees can purchase these items if they find them and be reimbursed for them."

These kind of measures are aloof and not acceptable. They show that the corporate representatives do not face the same working conditions as the workers and thus show a total lack of respect for the workers who are on the frontlines providing such an essential service in difficult situations.

CPC's answer to the need for a comprehensive plan to set up cleaning of work areas is just as dismissive. Their claim to have increased the frequency of cleaning simply does not correspond with the experience of workers in many cities. Without a proper functioning local Joint Health and Safety Committees which have the responsibility to report to each work floor and show results, it is impossible to properly respond to problems raised by the workers in a timely manner. Workers are not only put at risk which translates to putting the public at risk, but a stressful situation increases the health problems. It is an irrational approach due to aloofness and bureaucracy with which the workers have to settle scores.

A good example of the corporation's attitude is the out of hand dismissal of the suggestion of letter carriers to temporarily stop the sorting and delivery of nonessential flyers. The workers suggested that by eliminating this work the amount of time spent in letter carrier depots will be reduced and in turn the risks of working in close quarters would also be more manageable.

Delivery of flyers is not essential to the public, especially at this time, so eliminating the considerable extra time spent in the depots is a measure which would go a long way to showing concern for the safety of letter carriers during these emergency conditions.

So far Canada Post has refused to take any action on this proposal. Apparently, the profit made from the delivery flyers is more important to the corporation than providing as many safety precautions as possible to protect postal workers. Through its actions the corporation has not only failed to protect postal workers but it has also failed to properly manage the important service which postal workers provide.

Canadians can play a role by insisting that Canada Post Corporation act immediately to rectify the situation to ensure neither workers or the public are put at risk and postal operations can continue to provide the service which is so crucial at this time when such large parts of the population must remain at home.

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"We do this so that we can continue
to provide the service."

Alain Robitaille is the President of the Montreal Local of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers.

The situation is changing fairly quickly. What we are trying to do is reduce the risks of contagion at the source. They will never be reduced to zero, we are aware of this, but we all have a role to play in reducing the risk of contagion as much as possible so that our workers stay at work because society has to keep going. They must stay at work under conditions that are as appropriate as possible in the circumstances we are experiencing at the moment.

We have negotiated with the employer that we no longer have direct contact with the client. Our letter carriers ring the doorbell. If there is a signature required, we forget the signature, we give the shipment directly to the customer. If the customer is not there, we try to drop the package in a safe place. As a last resort only, we send this to the postal counters and we leave a card for people to go to the postal counters. We do not want to divert the problem to the people who work at the counters because they are also at risk.

We have a multitude of heroes on our work floors who are at work and are facing this crisis. It must be emphasized that they are heroes because they are holding the fort despite the imminent risks.

We understand that at the end of the day the post office will become more and more important in the future because if people have to stay at home it is certain that there will be an expansion in the volume of parcels. People will order the products they need online. We will become more and more essential. If the mail can no longer be delivered, it is hard to see why a grocery worker would want to go to work, why the city worker would go to the sewage plant, why the worker who collects the garbage would go to work. We are together in facing the situation and we all have a role to play.

We are satisfied that, following our negotiations with the employer, given that the strongest risk is still that of being infected by someone who returns from a trip and infects people who have not traveled, the employer is contacting all the workers who are scheduled to return from vacation. The employer is telling those who have returned from trips abroad, including the United States, that it is mandatory that they are required to go into mandatory quarantine, paid, for 14 days. If a worker has symptoms on the work floor they will also be required to go into quarantine for 14 days, paid. Workers are not required to go to their doctor.

For people who need to stay home to look after their children, we have a provision in our collective agreement which provides for special leaves with 100 per cent of regular wages, and this does not affect other leaves or vacations. Senior management has authorized supervisors to approve five-day periods of special leave.

The frequency of cleaning of the postal stations, of common areas, has been increased. In the mechanized plants, there is one person per shift whose only job is to disinfect the common areas, so three people per day who do just that.

In the Montreal local, the approach we are taking is to do everything in our power so that people can stay at work. We inform them of their rights, including the right that is very fundamental at the moment, the right to refuse, the right to refuse a job that puts you at risk. This right encourages workers to deal with their problems and to try to resolve them. Faced with a worker exercising their right of refusal, the Canada Labour Code is clear that there must be an investigation, that another worker cannot be assigned to do that work until the investigation takes place and a remedy is applied to the situation or the investigation concludes that the complaint was unfounded.

The right of refusal will allow us, I think, to work in a workplace that is as healthy as possible.

We know that there are going to be several management issues, many packages piling up on the floors, and we know that the stock will have to go out. We know what employers normally do in these circumstances, when, as they put it, there is money sleeping on the floor, when there is a little panic. They force workers to work harder, to work side-by-side, to work in the same truck. In this situation the right to refuse unsafe work takes on even more importance.

We inform workers of their rights, paid quarantine, special leave, the right to refuse, the right to disability insurance if illness puts you at risk in the future of contracting and dying from coronavirus.

We do this so that we can continue to provide the service. This is not just a question of union solidarity but of societal solidarity.

(Photo: CUPW)

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Quebec Construction Workers Achieve Initial Successes

Stepping Up the Fight for Safe and
Healthy Working Conditions

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, Quebec construction workers are stepping up the fight to protect their health and safety which are seriously put at risk by the lack of basic sanitary conditions on construction sites. Two of their main demands concern the installation of adequate washrooms on all construction sites, with heating, ventilation, a flush toilet, warm water, soap, toilet paper, and the setting of construction trailers so that workers do not eat side by side but can maintain a distance of one to two metres between them. They have actually been fighting for such a basic demand as adequate washrooms for decades and the life threatening danger they are now facing exposes the blatant indifference and neglect displayed by successive Quebec governments, the Quebec Construction Commission and many construction companies.

Construction workers report that they have made some headway through their direct intervention on construction sites in recent weeks in getting adequate washrooms installed and getting larger construction trailers set on a number of sites. They have exercised their right to refuse dangerous work to get changes that improve sanitary conditions on construction sites. Since the middle of March, construction workers report that hundreds of them have exercised their right to refuse dangerous work because basic sanitary measures and social distancing are not being upheld.

Besides the problem of sanitary facilities being non-existent and hand washing impossible on many construction sites, the issue of the organization of their work is foremost in the minds of the workers and must be dealt with urgently. Construction workers work in confined and restricted space which requires the presence of several workers and where even a distance of one metre between workers is hard to achieve. This requires full mobilization of the construction workers and their organizations so that alternatives can be worked out.

This is why on March 18, the two biggest unions of construction workers, the FTQ-Construction and the Quebec Provincial Building Trades Council, demanded that work on construction sites be temporarily suspended so that this work can be done. They are demanding that it be done with the participation of health authorities, the committee that was created by the Labour standards, Pay Equity and Workplace Health and Safety Board (CNESST) to deal with the issue of health and safety on the sites, and with all the stakeholders of the construction industry.

On March 23, the Quebec government announced that it is minimizing all non-priority businesses and services until April 13, including construction sites. Construction firms can only carry out emergency repairs or work needed to ensure safety. Electricians, plumbers and other trades will perform emergency services only, with equipment rental firms maintaining their activities as needed for support.

This measure has been presented by the Quebec government as a "pause" but this is not the way construction workers and their unions see what this period should be. They are demanding that this period be one of intensive work so that, when construction sites reopen, measures have been put in place to drastically improve sanitary conditions and deal with the organization of the work so that workers' health and safety is protected.

This is how the General Director of FTQ-Construction Éric Boisjoly described the aim the union had in demanding that activities be temporarily suspended on the construction sites:

"It is currently impossible to meet basic health standards on the vast majority of construction sites in Quebec. In this context, it is irresponsible to continue the work. Our workers are not guinea pigs and cannot continue to work without any protection. You can't improvise with health and safety, you have to have clear measures and make sure they are in place. We must act immediately."

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