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Lanark Postmaster Anders Carson, one of our Ontario Branch directors, has been writing us regular “Letters from the Front.” Here are some excerpts. If anybody else has stories to share, please send them our way!
“My hair this week is starting to look a bit like Jerry Garcia on a camel in 1978.”
– Anders Carson, “Letter from the Front # 6” April 27 2020
March 22, 2020
I am an employee of Canada Post in the capacity of Postmaster in Lanark, ON. I knew something had shifted when I started seeing more of the updates coming down and the wording was becoming more forceful ending in one statement “If you see something, say something.” Those are the exact words coming out of the days following the 9/11 attacks. So, being a front line worker and also a writer I am going to send bona fide true updates to all.
Here are some things that we’re doing in our office that will help dampen the anxiety and the hysteria that is mounting. I’ve doubled the cleaning the office and that same cleaner who at the beginning of the week had the push back on Friday looked me in the eye and said the community needs you… She is cleaning to help make staff and customers safe. In these unsteady times we need to all work together. All levels.
As of Monday, I will be far more forceful with those snowbirds coming back and wanting mail without having gone into self-isolation. We will call the snowbirds and check in on them and educate them to not come into the post office until they have completed their 14 day isolation. We are asking them not to come in and that their held mail will be delivered out on the route not over the counter in the office. Now is not a time to be going out and spreading the “love…” To put into perspective how truly global we are one of the long haul truckers did a pick up in a “hot spot” in Washington State which is really far from post office in Lanark…
These are challenging times for all of us and must remember that working together is tantamount to having success. I measure success by less cases all at once that will put pressure on our front line staff in the hospitals. This is a time to look out for that neighbour who is elderly, the one with weakened lung or diabetes or immune deficiency or battling cancer because they are scared and we at Canada Post are the lighthouse in the community.
March 29, 2020
We got updates that gloves were on the way along with plexiglass for certain offices. That raised the spirits in the office. It felt as if our concerns were taken seriously. It was good to see more people adhering to the reality of social distancing. We have opted for a one at a time rule in the office when serving customers. We’re polite and helpful knowing that we are a beacon as more businesses close and the money becomes tight you can see it in the eyes of those coming in.
I will say that there is something that goes in waves as the days go on. It must be like a teller in a bank who was robbed early on in her career. You don’t know if the next customer will be a repeat and you get a little twitch in your eye as you welcome them. You don’t know if they are carrying the virus or if you are. You just don’t know. So you settle on getting on top of that wave of doubt. You dig deeper into yourself, deeper than you ever thought possible and you welcome them.
I had two contract workers walk off on the Monday. The mail started to sit and the parcels started piling up and then the realization that they would be coming in looking for their mail. I’m sure you are experiencing it too. The thrush of anxiety, the click of your jaw as you awaken in the dark at 3:40 am and seeing the line-ups for the supermarket. The early morning ones with seniors up early as always and ready to go do something, anything. But this is the time for us to have that distance.
But we are also humans and creative. We put up signs in our window to wish a little boy a happy birthday as his mom drove down the main street to have him see the love from the community. It will be a birthday he won’t ever forget. The weirdness, the surreal coldness of having to distance but that doesn’t mean we have to lose our humour. We don’t need to lose our passion for living. We don’t need to forget about the next-door neighbour. What we need is a daily assurance that it will be OK. Almost like a boxer going into the ring, head jerking back and forth, it’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok. We got this. The operative word is we.
This week an RCMP officer came in and saw the gloves we had. The ones we brought from home. He went and got a box for us. He thanked us for being here and I thanked him for being there. He would be soon deployed to wherever he was needed. We too must remember that it is all of us in this together. Defending camps, or crossing lines are sometimes needed for the safety of all. We have made our office our own base of cleanliness. We check in with each other, give an encouraging word and realize that watching the media 24/7 going to give us all a big tummy ache.
This is going to be longer than we think. Prepare yourself mentally for this change and know that you are not alone. That we are thousands strong, walking the streets to get parcels to customers, dropping them from vehicles and the face of Canada Post as they come in (one at a time…).
Together we will do this. Together we are essential.
April 6, 2020
This week a young girl who works in the now closed chocolate store across the way from the post office ( well situated for chocolate lovers…) came in midweek when I seemed to be having a low point. The realization that we were working harder than at Christmas, the parcels jumping up exponentially and keeping the flow of some semblance of commerce moving. She came in and brought chocolate eggs to say thank you for being open. For being here and the public knows that we are here. Again that bastion of one of the last places in villages and towns across the land where our Canadian flag flies proudly.
Well I look into the mirror and now instead of Castaway, the beginnings of Quest for Fire is assembling… At the counter there are more masks as people come in but the amount of parcels going out and coming in is incredible. It’s almost like Christmas albeit in April. If this carries on longer my beard will be completely gray and all I need to do is add some weight and I could do commercials for Santa.
The public has been better and are lining up outside at a respectful distance. I keep one window open to help dilute the Javex smell. I think that it will be synonymous with germs for long time in my psyche.
People are coming to mail parcels or pick up packages are really thanking the whole staff for being here. I mean really thanking us. Remember those words of kindness; they are vital.
I reported a couple of weeks back that we have a chocolate company right across from our post office. It’s “dangerous” at the best of times but this last little while they have in the window a big gigantic rainbow and words that thank all of the essential workers in our community. That’s what we look out at everyday.
April 27 2020
This past week I heard words on the news that we had a 1.8 million package day. And this is April. They are playing our favourite song (It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year). Now I won’t be singing any carols but I do know that there are lots of items that we are moving that people need. Medicines, cheques from the government, scratch and wins for the birthday girl, and a whole alley of new postal boxes.
To try to have some normalcy in these times I went out and did the route inspections; 3 of them. One our routes is 160 KM long. The baby route of the 4 is only 125 KM. It’s a big area for us to do the “last mile” to our customers.
We had our supervisor bring masks to our staff. Yay. We also massively reconfigured our lobby using a table, removing the PIN pad with the magic key in our vaults across the land. There is 6 feet of cord underneath (the much needed 6 feet in these times) and with tape and some MacGyver and MacGyverette ingenuity we have the appropriate distancing needed with the public.
May 11 2020
On the weekend we watched some old shows. A couple of episodes of Golden Girls which had planes landing in the opening credits and a jingle that once it gets in your head you hum all day. It was amazing that you could have things solved and wrapped up in less than 20 minutes. There were times that I peeked at the stations with moving numbers of deaths in the US and around the world. It’s a truly agonizing thing to see the suffering. But on the flipside you see how much people do care and are lending a hand either virtually, through funny stories, heroic feats by just doing their jobs.
I know the amount of parcels in our offices have exploded. One of the things that those numbers aren’t really telling us is the size of the parcels. I know we measure every one coming in but it seems to be a discrepancy between days when some of the drivers have 55 parcels that are huge and they do double runs and then other days that have 90 that are smaller. I think it skews the timelines immensely. Ditto in our office so many in town parcels. I think this will be with us for awhile.
Usually at the time of year we are cleaning up in our offices, doing inspections but I’ve found with the foot traffic, parcels and the public sending more through the mail that it does feel as if the levels are Christmas. I know at that time of year you become zombie like and do your tasks. Make sure everyone is doing OK in the office, praise the good works, cut down on the mistakes that tie up the phone and then drive safely home without closing your eyes from the exhaustion.
We finished getting our garden ready for the summer. Seeds were planted and watered and now the sun will do its life-giving magic. We finished the last row on Sunday and will get the potatoes planted too. I find that I’m appreciating the small things. We had our first take out this Wednesday. They had a Greek night at our local restaurant. We got some and dropped off to neighbours so they could also have a much needed rest from doing the dishes… There is no delivery of food out here. We’re on our own. I hope this letter finds you all well. Stay safe and keep taking care of each other.
May 19 2020
I got a call on the weekend that the supposed overload truck never arrived. Today will be a heavy with a capital H. But it’s best to just pick a corner and start.
As we open up as a society again, masked or unmasked, gloved or ungloved … I will remember what it was like to look up at the sky and see no airplanes. I will remember that people do hold the door open for you ( and hold their breath at the same time…) I will remember that the elderly were once more given the much needed respect with early open hours, a realization that the long-term facilities maybe need a little more funds and that for the first time in a long time we at Canada Post were deemed “essential…”
…We open up our offices to a new day. The smell of bleach, and Lysol so pungent in the morning. The truck doing its back up beep. Then we roll up our sleeves. Answer the phone with courtesy and respect and put our teeth, back and soul into getting those parcels, letters and tax returns moving again.
We are now going to be open full hours to the public. This is a page on our journey. I turn it (without licking my thumb… ) and see the bright day begin.
Be safe out there.
Statue in Sainte Sophie de Levrard, QC,
sent in by Postmaster Sylvie Hamel.
As the pandemic wears on, all levels of the Association are continuing to keep track of the concerns being expressed by our members and officers are meeting regularly with CPC management to bring your concerns forward.
Most of our members will have by now received protective equipment for their post offices but if yours hasn’t yet arrived, please let your Branch know immediately. I have asked management about masks but they are unable to supply masks for all of us. Many Canadians are making their own masks to wear in public as recommended by health experts. Here’s a link to important federal government information about non-medical masks.
With the ongoing changes to federal benefits in the pandemic crisis, some of our part-time members may now be eligible for the benefits. You can find more information here.
Management has also assured us that term employees will not lose their continuous employment status due to the pandemic.
Extension of Special Leave for child care and elder care
We have been notified that the Corporation is extending its paid Special Leave for employees who are dealing with school and daycare closures, and caring for elderly parents who previously had care that is no longer available. Effective immediately, management can now approve Special Leave for child care and elder care until further notice.
Changes to Quarantine Leave
We have been notified that the Corporation is extending quarantine leave as a protective measure for older workers and those considered high risk.
Effective immediately, all members are eligible for paid quarantine leave who are aged 70 or older* or who have pre-existing medical conditions or considered high-risk (e.g. compromised immune systems, employees who are pregnant and have been instructed by a health professional to self-isolate).
You do not need medical documentation to support a request for quarantine leave at this time; however, be aware that the employer may ask for it at a later date.
You do not need to use your personal days first.
If you were already approved for Special Leave under these circumstances, Quarantine Leave will now apply and the personal days you have already used will be reinstated.
*N.B. It is already mandatory in Quebec for workers 70+ to stay home.
Message from the National President March 31 2020
We continue to hear that protective equipment has yet to be received in many post offices and this is causing significant stress for our members. We take this seriously and we are continuing to bring these issues forward to the Corporation on a daily basis.
The good news is that protective equipment has begun to arrive in some of our offices. There was some confusion when these kits arrived because the Corporation originally advised the barrier shields were Plexiglas. The plastic that is in the kits is 12 point PVC and has been proven effective to stop the flow of aerosols. Here is an example of the installation of the protective barriers in the Almonte, Ontario, post office.
Elsewhere, our resourceful members have been getting creative and innovative in order to protect themselves and their customers. As just one example, a Postmaster shared with us her improvised safety meaures:
“Even with the signage and tape for the floor, indicating our expectations from the customers, people were either not reading or not adhering to the social distancing or the limit of 2 customers in our office. I took the proactive position to lock our door and when the customers pull on the door we quickly come to the door. We ask what they need. If it’s a prepaid parcel return, we request that it is left on the lobby desk and we will retrieve it once they leave. If it’s a monetary transaction then they are admitted but with the following instructions:
Once I unlock the door please wait until I’m behind the counter before you enter.
Please lock the door behind you.
Stay behind the yellow line if you are doing anything other than shipping parcels.
If they are sending a parcel, I then instruct customer to put it on the scale and step back behind the yellow line again.
If it’s a 19+ or monetary transaction I will move further back so customers can use pinpad.
Any parcels or registers that had been on our shelves prior to the signature change have now been sent out for delivery, lessening the foot traffic in the office.
After every person comes in we disinfect the counter, the doors, the deadbolt and pinpad. We are wearing gloves and wash frequently.
We have staggered RSMC and CPAA shifts (voluntarily) to ensure we only have 4-5 staff members in at one time. That seems to be working well too.
Hope some of this helps another office.”
The rainbow symbol for hope is everywhere in small rural Quebec communities, such as in Notre Dame de Pontmain. We are also hearing really amazing stories of communities stepping up to help Postmasters find emergency supplies. We know a healthy and safe workplace is a joint responsibility but until CPC can get the supplies there, it is good to see communities coming to the rescue.
CPC has just issued further instructions for Team Leaders on employees taking special leaves and quarantine leaves. Your Branch can advise you of your rights, including your legal right to refuse unsafe work if needs be.
Due to the current pandemic and concern for the safety of our members, our Spring issue of The Canadian Postmaster will be postponed for now. In the meantime, please stay informed with our updates.
We want to keep hearing about your stories and those of your communities during this difficult. Please feel free to share them with us via the contact form on our website or by emailing us at the National Office. And please keep your suggestions and photos coming!
Take care out there,
Brenda McAuley, National President
(working from the National Office building in Ottawa)
Message from the National President: March 25th
Sisters and Brothers,
The situation is changing by the hour. These are unsettling times and there is uncertainty for employees, unions, and employers alike. The most important thing is that all of us have to be committed to each other’s health, safety, and wellbeing. There is no question that the coronavirus pandemic is at the forefront of everybody’s minds. If you are finding the stress difficult to cope with at this point, I encourage you to make use of our Homewood Health program by calling 1-800-663-1142 or visiting their website.
CPAA, like all the other unions, has been in constant communication with Canada Post, both at the National and Branch levels, and pressing management on the urgent need for safety and protective equipment for our members who are frontline workers.
It is important to keep up to date with federal, provincial, and municipal government instructions during this state of emergency. Federal and provincial governments are issuing updates daily – sometimes several times a day.
It is unsettling to be a frontline worker at this time. CPAA knows this and we are working around the clock to ensure your workplaces are as safe as they can be. Your workplaces are very important to the larger response to COVID-19. The Government has announced that post offices are part of Canada’s pandemic plan response. Our post offices are often a lifeline for our communities and will bring essential items for people in the community who need it. In this time of great need, we are asking for all our members’ help to ensure that Canadians, as a whole, get through this.
We are working with the Corporation to create enhanced safety measures. We are sharing your ideas with management and they are listening. In response to our demand for concrete steps to help ensure the safety of our members, Canada Post was finally able to secure gloves and sanitizing lotions which began to be shipped last week.
More changes to delivery reflect the need to reduce customer traffic and minimize contact with our customers. The new Knock, Drop and Go policy means that the carrier will knock or ring the doorbell, leave the item outside and move onto the next address. This new process includes signature items, with the exception of Proof of Age, Proof of Identity and Customs Owings items.
Plexiglass shields for installation at front counters are being shipped to individual offices, as well as floor markers to guide and safely distance customers. Post office hours are being reduced without any impact on members’ wages. We also asked CPC to limit the number of customers who can enter the post office at once. These are examples of what we have been able to do so far and we encourage you to continue sending us your constructive ideas and suggestions via our website contact form.
It is very important to take immediate action in your own office: be vocal, tell people to move back, and take the time to wash your hands thoroughly between transactions, particularly cash transactions. You can ask your customers to use debit or credit card instead of cash and if they have only cash, make sure you wash your hands thoroughly after handling.
This is a global pandemic with the severe implications that such an event causes. Sorely needed medical supplies and protective equipment stocks are depleted the world over. As I write this, hospitals here and abroad are having difficulty securing Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) for frontline medical staff treating infected and seriously ill patients. Before governments even made the request, industries started retooling assembly lines in order to fill the gaps and provide the necessary equipment. Beer brewers are now making sanitary lotions, various manufacturers are looking at building respirators, convention centres are being turned into temporary field hospitals, and much more. As has been said many times by our political and civic leaders, we are all in this together and together we can overcome this crisis.
We will continue to update you on developments as quickly as we are able.
In solidarity, Brenda
We have heard your comments and suggestions, and have been in talks over the weekend with Canada Post to implement your ideas. By now, you should have received these posters in your offices and updates on your various leave options. Please note: only hours to the public are reduced at this time. All full-time, part-time and temp schedule hours will remain whole.
Please take care,
Brenda McAuley, National President
Canada Post has made the following posters available for inside and outside your post offices
CPAA has language in our collective agreement for quarantine; specifically, Sick Leave Article 32.02 :
“An employee is entitled to leave with pay for time lost due to quarantine where she is unable to work as certified by a qualified medical practitioner. Such leave is to be granted without charge to leave credits.”
Going to Work
Each member is going to have to assess whether they are able to go to work. In doing so, three questions have to be asked:
I’m in good health but worry about whether the post office is a healthy place to be. Should I go to work?
You have a right to refuse to work if there is an imminent and serious threat to your health. Federal and provincial governments are issuing updates daily – sometimes several times a day. For now, they are recommending that people use personal practices to reduce their risk. That includes directions that people keep their distance from each other, wash hands properly and disinfect common-use surfaces. They have not said that people shouldn’t go to work. Unless that changes, employees of the Corporation should continue to go to work.
It is natural to feel worried, but remember you are playing a vital part in allowing people’s lives to go on.
In parts of Canada where there are very few cases and no community transmission, the decisions may be very different than in more populated communities.
We are working with Canada Post on an urgent basis to write protocols for situations where people have concerns about individual circumstances. That includes dealing with customers who are returning from trips overseas. There will be more information very shortly.
It was very concerning to hear from some of you that members have not received supplies to combat this virus. The Corporation assures us that protective products are being expedited to all the Post Offices. Please keep National informed if you do not get these products within the next few days.
I have a health issue that puts me at greater risk if I am exposed. Should I go to work?
This is a medical issue. You will have to make decisions based on the risk and the possible consequences.
The medical system is going to be very busy right now. If you can, you should discuss this issue with your doctor or health care practitioner.
If you are placed on leave because of the risk of infection, you should contact your manager as soon as possible. We inquired about options for anyone in a compromised situation that has a weak immune system and were told you must use personal days and then request special leave from the supervisor. Please let your branch President or designate know in the event your leave is denied.
I don’t feel well. Should I go to work?
This is a medical issue. Follow the advice in your community. There are local or provincial guidelines for self-assessment based on the risk that you have a virus infection. Your first duty is to safeguard your own health. You also have a duty to your community to avoid spreading infection.
Get proper medical advice and follow it. There are personal days, special leave days, short-term disability pay and new federal government programs to minimize the effect on people’s earnings.
We have had questions about why Canada Post is treating CUPW members differently because they don’t have to get items signed at the door. The answer is that they are not treating CUPW members differently because they are treating all retail outlets in the same way. All retail CUPW post offices have to follow the same procedures as CPAA retail.
We will be sending out more information in the coming days and will endeavour to provide more frequent updates. For over a hundred years, our Association has said that we are stronger when we work as a group toward a common goal. That has never been truer than right now.