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Canada Post looks to clear ‘hundreds’ of backlogged trailers

Posted: November 27, 2018 by John G. Smith

Trailers remain to be cleared at Canada Post’s Gateway facility in Mississauga, Ont. Each carries about 2,500 parcels and packets. (Photo: Canada Post)

TORONTO, Ont. – The annual surge of online shopping linked to Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals has concluded. The question that remains is how quickly the parcels will ship through Canada Post.

While the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) has been forced back to work, ending a month of rotating strikes, a related backlog of loaded trailers must still be cleared. Canadian parcel deliveries are expected to be delayed into January 2019, with international parcel delays stretching into 2019.

“Hundreds of trailers are currently waiting to be unloaded in our yards, securely stored off-site, on the road or staged at commercial customers’ locations,” a Canada Post spokesman told Today’s Trucking. “In addition, many delivery depots are at capacity and temporarily unable to receive more items from processing plants. There is also a shortage of equipment, such as containers, available for commercial customers.”

The union has argued that the backlog was exaggerated as a negotiating ploy. It counted about 70 stranded trailers in Toronto, and said that volume could be cleared in a few days.

“We’re convinced that Canada Post manufactured a crisis just to get the government to intervene,” said CUPW national president Mike Palecek. “If so, that’s a huge concern – and it will further poison our work environment and labor relations for years and years to come.”

But the federal government decided the mail had to move.

“This ongoing work stoppage has had significant negative impacts on Canadians, businesses, international commerce, Canada Post, its workers and their families. Canadians and businesses rely on Canada Post and its workers, especially during the busy retail season,” said Patty Hajdu, minister of employment, workforce development and labor, as the federal government tabled back-to-work legislation.

The Crown corporation is certainly asked to shoulder increasing parcel volumes in an era of e-commerce. Last year Canada Post made $2 billion in revenue from parcels, which now account for 1/3 of overall revenue. Parcel-related revenue grew $393 million compared to the $124 million drop in transaction mail like letters and bills.

“Canadians look to us to deliver more of their shopping and less of their mail,” then-president and CEO Deepak Chopra said when releasing the most recent annual report.

Postal workers say they have been paying a physical price in the process.

Amidst a series of demands highlighted during the job action, the union reported that Canada’s postal workers now face an injury rate 5.4 times higher than an average federal worker. And in 2015 they faced 43.7 injuries per million hours on the job, compared to the 17.6 injuries per million hours faced by those involved in on-road transport.

Geoff Bickerton, director of research for the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, blames the changing nature of the job.

“There’s a direct correlation both between the respect of the volume of parcels and with the amount of walking they’re doing,” he says.

The sorting of letters into a required sequence, once left to postal workers, is now largely automated. More time is spent walking routes. And while most carriers were put behind the wheels of package cars, in a shift that occurred from 2009 to 2015, the number of steps from house to house remains unchanged, Bickerton says. The carriers can also be expected to wield parcels that weigh up to 60 lb., adding to the weight of the so-called final deliveries.

The package-related deliveries have become more complex because of the interactions with customers, he adds. “We end up with more slips and falls because of the difficulty of managing the system.”

To compound matters, routes are not being adjusted frequently enough to account for the rapid growth in e-commerce, Bickerton says. “If your route hasn’t been updated in three to four years, you’re really carrying more parcels now.”

And there are plenty of parcels to clear.

Said a spokesman for the Crown corporation: “As Canada Post works to reduce the backlogs, which represent a significant operational challenge, the health and safety of our employees will remain our highest priority.”

Canada Post carriers now travel from one route to the next in delivery vans, but a union spokesman says the number of steps between homes remains unchanged. (Photo: Canada Post)

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