Canada Post agrees to Edmonton workers' call for better COVID-19 safety procedures

Canada Post acceded to demands by Edmonton postal workers for more stringent COVID-19 safety protocols only after they took their concerns public and warned of work refusals, the union says.

Edmonton union local warned Canada Post its employees would start refusing work

Roland Schmidt, president of the Edmonton local of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, told CBC News in March that workers were prepared to begin refusing unsafe work if Canada Post didn't implement proper safety protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic. (David Bajer/CBC)

Canada Post acceded to demands by Edmonton postal workers for more stringent COVID-19 safety protocols only after they took their concerns public and warned of work refusals, the union says.

"After over 40 days of inaction in Edmonton, it took less than a week of collective workfloor pressure" to force Canada Post to make necessary changes, the local Canadian Union of Postal Workers said in a news release Friday.

"Edmonton's experience is that safety measures were only implemented with urgency by (Canada Post) once workfloors began openly discussing and preparing to refuse unsafe work," CUPW Edmonton said.

Last week, CBC News reported union claims that management was failing to properly protect postal workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing the risk to the public as demand for parcel delivery skyrockets.

Roland Schmidt, CUPW Edmonton president, told CBC News hand sanitizer and personal protective equipment, such as masks and gloves, were scarce in Edmonton-area depots. 

Management had also been slow to implement strict physical-distancing rules, he said, adding employees would start exercising their right to refuse unsafe work if Canada Post did not improve safety protocols.

In the news release, the union said Canada Post management has made several changes, including:

  • Having every facility try to stagger shifts in waves, with the goal of no overlap between these waves, as well as staggering breaks;
  • Promoting physical distancing at its facilities;
  • Working to provide sanitation kits containing gloves, rags and disinfectant spray in mail-preparation areas and high-contact work areas;
  • Arranging extra cleaning of its facilities;
  • Ordering protective barriers for all Canada Post retail locations.

Union pushing for third-party audit

A shortage of hand sanitizer and masks remains a problem, the union said. It is also pushing for management to provide paid special leave to temporary employees forced to self-isolate, and it wants a health authority to conduct an audit of Canada Post's practices during the pandemic.

Last week, Canada Post spokesperson Jon Hamilton told CBC News that management was already doing "everything possible to ensure that we are providing a safe work environment."

Hamilton said the organization was working to ensure hand sanitizer and gloves were available to employees and had physical distancing protocols in place at most, if not all, of its facilities, including post offices.

In addition to promoting regular handwashing, Canada Post was bringing in janitorial staff more frequently and doing more intensive cleaning, he said.

Hamilton also denied the union's claim that Canada Post had reneged on its leave agreements for temporary staff.

Schmidt said in the news release he continues to hear from colleagues across the Prairies that Canada Post is unprepared to properly respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"There is absolutely no consistency between how the different postal operations are confronting this pandemic," he said.

"If (Canada Post) doesn't have a concrete, country-wide physical-distancing plan for their facilities, or sufficient sanitation regimes in place, then they are undermining broader virus-containment efforts."

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Jennie Russell

Former investigative reporter

Jennie Russell was a reporter with CBC Investigates, the investigative unit of CBC Edmonton, from 2012 until 2021. Russell specialized in accountability journalism. Her work has been widely credited with forcing transparency and democratic change in Alberta.