New Brunswick

Changing times need reflection in negotiations, postal expert says

Leading postal expert Robert Campbell said the latest dispute between Canada Post and its workers is a classic example of what happens when the old world meets up with the new world.

Balance between want and expectations important, says Robert Campbell

In a digitized world, for the increasing number of people who rarely use the mail anymore, a Canada Post lockout would likely be greeted with ambivalence. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Leading postal expert Robert Campbell said the latest dispute between Canada Post and its workers is a classic example of what happens when the old world meets up with the new world.

Now president of Mount Allison University in Sackville, Campbell is the former chair of a strategic report of Canada Post's operations in 2008. An international expert and consultant on postal systems and their modernization, Campbell has written two postal books, The Politics of the Post and The Politics of Postal Transformation

Robert Campbell is the President of Mt. Allison University and an expert on international postal systems. He has a few thoughts on the pending lock-out at Canada Post

Campbell told Information Morning Fredericton times are changing quickly and both management and workers at Canada Post need to work out a balance between their wants and expectations as they iron out a new contract.

"I think that this transformation from hard copy to digital and from letter mail to parcels, is just rupturing the business model," Campbell said. "And it's rupturing the way in which you organize your labour force and way you pay your labour force. That's what is creaking at the edges of the old world meets the new world, [and] is kind of what's going on here at the moment."

Campbell said any deal will inevitably require some degree of flexibility from both sides, and most importantly a recognition of reality.

"If you look at Canada Post it's kind of like a smokestack industry in some ways in the sense that its core business, which was letter mail over which you had a monopoly and that's where it made most of its money, that's sinking like a stone.

Lost revenue

Campbell said Canada Post is losing three to five per cent volume in in letter mail a year resulting in a declining source of guaranteed revenues for good wages, benefits and pensions. 

Robert Campbell, a leading expert in postal systems says management and workers at Canada Post need to work out a balance during contract negotiations. (Submitted)
While the growth of parcel delivery in the internet commerce age is making up for some of that loss of revenue, it is not as profitable as letter mail.

Campbell said Canada Post doesn't have a monopoly in the area of parcel delivery. It's up against FedEx and UPS as well as smaller mom and pop parcel delivery services.

He adds the corporation is forced to deal with a pension plan that reflects the past — a defined benefit plan that guarantees a level of income to workers who retire.

"I remember someone making the crack that Canada Post was a pension plan that happened to deliver the mail. The pension plan is probably worth more than the company at the moment. This is often the case with traditional industries that stop growing."

Similar to car industry

Campbell compared what's happening with Canada Post to what happened with the car industry when robots came along and suddenly there was competition from Japan and Korea. As a result, there were all kinds of changes when that happened to wage rates and conditions of work.

Campbell said the corporation and postal workers need to factor in peoples' changing allegiance to the postal service.

Around 25 per cent of Canada post mail, parcel post, has been growing very rapidly because of the explosion of e-commerce. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Post)
While at one time people couldn't bear the thought of living without letter delivery, that has changed.

"You know I've got four kids, they're in their 20s, they've gone through university and what have you they know I'm a postal expert and they always kind of tease me," he said. "I mean I haven't got a letter from them for years and years and years.

"They send the odd postcard when they're travelling, so you talk to one generation or you talk to people in urban areas or you talk to people in modern sectors of the economy, the postal system doesn't loom large in their lives and so if there were to be a strike or a lockout it would be a little bit of a tree falling in the forest for them."

But Campbell said he's of the generation that still values mail service, as do many community groups.

Remains hopeful

Campbell said he's not convinced Canada Post should become involved in postal banking as a possible revenue generator since they don't have the expertise with it.

"If you're getting involved in areas in which you don't have a lot of expertise and background, what have you in new areas, then it strikes me that maybe you're taking your eye off the ball and you're leaving some opportunities on the table in the traditional areas," Campbell said.

Campbell said he does remain hopeful both sides can work something out in the coming days, without the need for a disruption in service but he's not convinced.

"I'm afraid if the rhetoric means anything I think there's a good chance there's going to be a disruption. But I'm not sure that disruption is going to resolve anything because both sides are talking a very different kind of vision going forward."

Information Morning Fredericton

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