Publishers scrambling, NAMMU calls for emergency postal debate
An organization representing businesses that rely on the postal service has called for an emergency debate in parliament, while publishers scramble to get their magazines out the door before an impending strike Thursday at midnight.
Canada Post and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) are at odds in bargaining talks, and the union has already given its 72-hour mandatory strike notice. Mail carriers could be off the job as of 11:59 p.m. EDT Thursday, June 2. Canada Post has rejected the postal union's latest offer, but the union has stated it is willing to negotiate until the strike deadline. The corporation issued a release May 30 that the offer from the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) is "out of touch with challenges facing Canada Post".
Postal workers in the U.S. recently agreed to a multi-year wage freeze to save the struggling USPS an estimated $3.8 billion.
The National Association of Major Mail Users (NAMMU) issued a statement May 31 calling on Ottawa to "focus on the already significant economic impact of a threatened disruption of postal services."
NAMMU president Kathleen Rowe noted any recovery from the recent recession "has been wiped out with this threat of delivery instability." She stated that mail has been warehoused and marketing campaigns have been cancelled or diverted to other media. "The ominous signals are that much of this mail will not return."
Parliament resumes sitting June 2. Mark Jamison, CEO of Magazines Canada, previously said it's advantageous that the minister of labour, Lisa Raitt, wasn't shuffled following the federal election, as she will already be up to speed on the issue. NAMMU sent a letter to Raitt dated May 31 calling for action, stating "layoffs are starting, clients are wary, businesses are bracing for the worst."
Publishers of all sizes are doing their best to weather the coming storm.
Barry Finn, publisher of Ancaster, Ont.-based horse publication The Rider with 10 editions per year, said he was originally going to press June 2, "but that wouldn't work if they go on strike on Friday, then it would just sit there," he said. He's hoping if there is a strike it's a short one, for fears his subscribers won't get their June edition until the end of the month.
"My printing is now on hold until I see which way they're going to go," he said. Possible contingencies including doubling up the issue and making it a June/July, "which is a pain because I lose revenue (in ads).
"I have a lot of customers that run ads every month, I won't regain that income. It's not like they're going to run two ads in the same issue," he said, adding on the upside, he wouldn't be paying for printing and mailing twice.
Katherine Chartrand, director of communications for Transcontinental Media, sent some comments regarding the postal situation to Masthead on behalf of Pierre Marcoux, VP of the business and consumer solutions group at the company.
"Transcontinental Media does have an action plan in place in anticipation of a possible postal strike," noted Marcoux. "All of our magazines have been shipped at earlier dates this month to make sure our subscribers would receive their favourite publication on time."
Marcoux noted an immediate postal strike wouldn't affect Transcon right away, noting he doesn't anticipate a strike longer than "a few days". But while he didn't elaborate, he noted "we do have two options available to us in our action plan."
Tuppy Carnie is director of circulation for CCMC sports group, which publishes SCOREGolf. "We are lucky because we got our SCOREGolf May issue and Memorial Cup subscriber copies shipped out before the strike," she said in an email to Masthead. "Our next issue is not due to ship until end of June ... at which time, fingers crossed, the strike will be over.
"Hence, none of our advertisers or subscribers will miss an issue."
The last postal strike in 1997 lasted 16 days.
Finn noted about two-thirds of his 7,500 press run is mailed to individual addresses of subscribers. "The rest of it I could package myself and send through some kind of courier ... it'll probably cost me 40% more to do it by courier, not to mention my own physical labour to do all the packaging," he said.
In light of the possible postal strike, FedEx has issued a statement on its website noting the company has "a comprehensive contingency plan in place to manage increased volume ... We retain the capacity to handle domestic and international shipping needs for both new and existing customers."
But it's not just getting magazines out the door that's a challenge, Finn added. "It's the lack of cash flow ... (because of strike fears) I think some people have been playing a waiting game and not sending their cheques out, thinking it's going to get caught in the mail system."
The Rider will be 41 years old in June. Finn, who is barely older than the publication, remembers an earlier stoppage. "In the '70s or '80s I think we lost an issue (to a postal strike), we just didn't publish," he explained. "We had another publication called the County Farm ... I remember we drove around to all the rural post offices and gave it to them directly.
"But I can't hand deliver 5,000 subscription copies all over Ontario."
Meanwhile, the struggling U.S. Postal System (USPS) struck a deal recently with the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) with a contract until 2015 that includes a wage freeze for the first two years. The USPS said the deal will save the postal service $3.8 billion.
CUPW is asking for a 3.3% wage increase in the first year followed by 2.75% increases in the subsequent three years. Canada Post has offered 1.9% in the first three years, followed by 2% in subsequent contract years. Canada Post also wants a lower starting wage for new hires ($18/hour vs $24/hour) and changes to the pension program to fix a $3.2 billion pension deficit. The post office also wants CUPW members to switch to a new short-term disability program that all other Canada Post workers not part of CUPW (including executives) have already adopted.