Canada Post curbs pickups to clear backlog

Canada Post has stopped collecting letters from "large circulation" corporate clients in an effort to slow the influx of mail into their already backlogged system

Large customers in Toronto and Montreal told to hold off on sending mail

Canada Post has told corporations to hold on to their letters as they try to clear the mail backlog. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Canada Post has stopped collecting letters from "large circulation" corporate clients in an effort to slow the influx of mail into their already strained system. 

"We currently have about 40 million letters in backlog," said Canada Post spokesperson Anick Losier, adding that the number has likely climbed since last count Thursday.

"We simply did not have the capacity to store more mail in our plants and holding areas."

Losier said restrictions on corporations are reviewed daily and only affect major hubs in Toronto and Montreal — where about 60 per cent of Canada Post's volume is processed.

The decision on Friday delivery only applies to letters, and Canada Post will continue to accept publications, ad mail and parcels from corporations. Losier said the sales team has kept in touch with the affected companies, who she adds have been "extremely understanding."

Onus to keep track falls on customers

Some corporate communications offices contacted by CBC News, such as Telus and Scotiabank, were not immediately aware of the restrictions. Others responded that they would revert to measures they took during the strike.

Speaking for Hydro One, Danièle Gauvin said the company will once again point customers to their website and telephone information line.

"Until the backlog is cleared up, they can still get their account balance in other ways," said Gauvin, who added that so far people have been understanding. "As we get calls, we will continue to advise our customers. We've been informing them since early this spring."

As Canada Post will be changing the restrictions on a daily basis, and because there is no firm date for a return to pre-strike conditions, customers waiting for corporate letters face uncertainty.

The onus falls largely on individuals to check in with the large companies they deal with, like banks, telephone and utility companies. Some corporations — like Union Gas Limited — switched over to independent couriers during the strike. Others sent emails and posted bulletins reminding customers that a late or missing bill does not result in a grace period on payments.

Front-line employees face public

Average customers don't face the same blanket restrictions on sending mail, but they do continue to wait for regular service to return to pre-strike levels.

Canada Post’s web-based tracking system has been warning customers to expect delays since late June. The corporation has also suspended all service delivery guarantees.

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers claimed Wednesday that its members were being forced to deliver out-of-date flyers rather than bills and cheques, "setting themselves up to be blamed by an angry public."

"The CUPW is concerned that decisions made by Canada Post senior management to first lock out and then delay delivery will be blamed on postal workers," wrote the union in the mid-week release.

"Canada Post is prioritizing junk mail over cheques," said Alain Duguay, CUPW president of the Montreal local, adding that he has seen passports collecting dust that date back to early June. "I'm really wondering if there's a collusion to privatize."

Denis Lemelin, national president of CUPW, said Friday that part of the job is facing the public, and that letter carriers have also had pleasant encounters.

"People were surprised that they had some support from the public," said Lemelin, who has spoken with several mail carriers. "I think people understand what happened. We are doing the job."

Efforts have been focused in high volume areas, and overtime doled out in a way that Canada Post deems "fiscally responsible," said Losier.  The corporation estimates it lost $200 million during rotating strikes and the subsequent lockout as well as $35 million to $40 million in lost delivery contracts.

Canada Post has, however, extended overtime for letter carriers who face larger bottlenecks, typically an extra hour in the morning to plan their routes. Mechanized equipment is running 24 hours a day.

Duguay said that overtime is not the only issue. He said temporary workers need to be called in, and part-time workers should be offered more hours.

Lemelin added the focus must be broadened to include smaller cities, which also face backlogs, and that beside having more time to plan the route in the morning, workers need more time to walk it. 

"They have to give the opportunity to the mail carriers to deliver all the mail," said Lemelin, explaining that workers have been bringing items back to the facilities.

"It's as simple as that," he said. "The mail facility can process a lot of mail, but it needs to be delivered."