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Canadian Media Failed to Deliver

Issue: 78 Section: Media Analysis Geography: Canada Topics: cupw, Harper, labour, Postal Workers, strike

July 20, 2011

Canadian Media Failed to Deliver

Media coverage of Canada Post labour dispute uncritical, Inaccurate

by Kaley Kennedy

OTTAWA—A rally outside the Canada Post Station at Sparks and Elgin in Ottawa on June 4 attracted labour activists representing a variety of unions as well as community activists who are organizing through online networks such as People.4.PostalWorkers. CUPW National President Denis Lemelin called the multitude of unions and community groups at the Ottawa rally “formidable.” image by Sebastien Labelle Photo: Sebastien Labelle

By June 14, members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) had been staging rotating strikes for 11 days. Workers had decided they would slow down the delivery of mail by striking in different communities for two to three days at a time. Workers in Winnipeg, Hamilton, Fredericton, Victoria, Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, Cape Breton, and more, had all taken their turns on the picket line.

So while CUPW members in Toronto and Montreal were walking the picket line on June 14, workers in every other community in Canada showed up to work as usual. Letter carriers — Canada Post workers who deliver mail in our communities every Monday through Friday — were told there was no work for them. No mail was being delivered that Tuesday. So mail sat in Canada Post processing plants; undelivered.

Indoor workers in Halifax, who process and sort the mail, were working — but no mail would leave the plant. Even priority packages, which should be delivered by noon the day after they are shipped, were not delivered.

In Fredericton, management sent indoor workers home after only three hours of work, even with mail still to process, according to a twitter update from activist Ella Henry. Fredericton workers had just come off a strike rotation, so the claim from Canada Post that there was no work for both indoor workers and letter carriers seemed quite perplexing.

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

The Canadian Labour Code, which governs postal workers, 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, June 14, and were told to go home because Canada Post decided no mail was to be delivered. This is very clearly a “suspension of work by the employer” and in the context of the previous 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, during the June 14 partial lockout, CUPW declared the locked out workers to be on strike. This is not because the workers chose to strike that day. 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, which became a nation-wide full lockout on June 15, 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 of the dispute was not wages for current workers. Instead, the issue has always been the implementation of 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 argue are necessary for economic recovery. CUPW has been fighting to keep these kinds of jobs for new workers.

Many sources, including the CBC, continuously cited Canada Post’s statistic that mail volumes have fallen 17 per cent since 2006. In the Vernon Morning Star in BC, an editorial told readers, “E-mail obviously took over sending a friendly letter in the mail long ago for many of us and internet billing has become the norm … Therefore the amount of mail going into the system has obviously decreased.” Overall, however, mail volumes have increased by 10 per cent 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 the past couple of years, but it’s hardly an obvious trend. Where was the slew of reporters who should have been asking Canada Post President and CEO Deepak Chopra about the impact of the recession on mail service, whether there were signs of recovery, and what Canada Post was doing to improve and expand services for the future?

Also, there was 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.) Also, the whole argument that mail volumes are down because more things are being done electronically needs to be examined since the internet has been around for a while now. Why wasn’t the corporate and mainstream media looking into all of these issues? Why wasn’t the media exploring what Canada Post could be doing instead – improving door-to-door delivery, providing expanded public services (think of how processing EI claims at a post office could reduce backlogs), or the slew of services taken up by European postal services in the face of more electronic business.

How many stories, instead, were written on the opinions of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business on the strike? How many opinion editorials were published by right wing think tanks? Where were the journalists who are supposed to uncover facts?

Perhaps most frustrating was 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 – so detrimental that the government needed to legislate the resumption of mail service. Canada Post and the Harper government can’t have it both ways, and where were journalists to interrogate this contradiction?

Repeatedly, articles published that Canada Post 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. Reporters did little to question where that number came from or even when those losses were from.

While the 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 completely failed to point out that locked out workers received no pay from Canada Post. Postal workers, like all Canadians, have families and bills and responsibilities and were being prevented from working by their employers. What was the economic impact of 48,000 workers being locked out? How much did workers see in lost wages? What were workers doing to make up the lost wages? Did they borrowing more? Did they dipping into savings? Did bills being left unpaid?

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

Deafeningly silent.

Kaley Kennedy is a member of the Halifax Media Co-op and is involved in Support Postal Workers, a campaign organised by people in Halifax to generate community support for postal workers.

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Comments

thank-you

Thank-you,Ms. Kennedy, for your article "Canadian Media Failed To Deliver". It's about time someone pointed a finger at mainstream media and their lack of fact-checking and misinformation.
I have been a letter carrier for 31 years and I'm a little tired of the public being misinformed regarding our labour disputes. During our lock-out, I became so enraged with mainstream media's reporting, that I ceased reading or watching the news. It was always wrong.
I'd like to point out one small thing; Vancouver was never affected by the rotating strikes. Victoria and Nanaimo were, but that is as close is it came to Vancouver.
Thank-you again for your well-thought out and FACTUAL piece. I read it with a smile on my face. Someone actually got it right!

JT

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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