Sunday, January 2, 2011

Canada Post and CUPW: when internal communications go external

photo from
A story in today's Winnipeg Free Press about how "[t]housands of Christmas packages sat undelivered in the former downtown post office as late as New Year's Eve," according to a union official (were all or most of those packages mailed before the Christmas delivery deadline? We don't know...), appears to be the latest shot in the Canadian Union of Postal Workers' (CUPW) campaign to embarrass Canada Post into backtracking on a new initiative to have postal carriers carry more mail on their routes.

Unsurprisingly, some letter carriers don't like the initiative, which requires them to carry a heavier load -- and which, according to the head of Winnipeg's CUPW local Bob Tyre in an interview with the National Post, "obscures the feet from view, causing falls and injuries, and results in back and neck pain."

The Art of War

I have no connection to Canada Post or CUPW, but here are some things I think we can assume the union knows and is willing to use to its advantage:
  • its employer's business has dropped since the rise of electronic communication;
  • holiday gift packages and greeting cards represent two of the remaining personal communications many Canadians tend to rely on the postal service to deliver;
  • the on-time delivery of those parcels and envelopes is a high-stakes matter to Canada Post's consumer clients;
  • Canada Post's business clients are fighting huge message overload as they vie for their customers' attention during the holidays -- so the flyers and direct mail they pay Canada Post to deliver on their behalf is crucial (to them), too.
In the National Post story, Canada Post spokesman Jon Hamilton suggests the union didn't attempt to raise its concerns privately before going public: "There are other avenues where the union could address their concerns, make their views known without hurting or impacting service to Canadians and the businesses that depend on us.”

Dysfunctional relationships over the holidays aren't just at family dinner tables

From the outside, we can't know how this all went down - but we can reflect on the effectiveness of open, two-way dialogue between employers and unions.

An unfortunate fact is that sometimes, companies have to make changes that employees don't like.

And in my experience, management doesn't like to have to make those decisions either. I've worked on a number of communication strategies for layoffs and office closures in my time, and have never once seen an executive happy (or even neutral) about having to do it. They hate it.

The significant human empathy part of it aside, management also knows that happy employees are productive employees. Even if you believe management only cares about the bottom line, you have to recognize that executives are well aware that in the long run, the bottom line benefits from happy employees (and is hurt by unhappy ones).

But if the company's management has analyzed the situation and the unpopular change is the only way it can see achieving long-term success -- which, as Hamilton points out in the National Post, means continued jobs for employees in the first place -- then it's what the company has to do.

One thing we do know: having the spokesperson for the employees' union tell the public through the media that the corporation "doesn't care if they don't cover all their routes anymore," as CUPW's Bob Tyer is quoted as having said in the Winnipeg Free Press, doesn't help build customer confidence. Canada Post's customers have alternatives; I'm sure Mr. Tyer's members hope his words don't send those customers to the competition, reducing demand for their services (and, therefore, their jobs).

It takes two

If a company has a healthy, productive, two-way relationship with its union, it's in a far better place to begin communicating a change employees won't like, because employees aren't immediately on the defensive, thinking "management only cares about making money and doesn't care about us." When corporate communications are open and effective in helping unions and employees see the rationale behind corporate decisions and their long-term benefit, there's a far greater likelihood of acceptance and cooperation (even if the news hurts).

One way a company can help build that kind of cooperative sentiment is to involve employees in the decision-making process; there are always options, and involving employees and/or the union in determining how to implement a change can help build relationships and buy-in.

But that doesn't mean it's all up to the company to make two-way dialogue happen: it really does take two. When a union deals openly and in good faith with the employer, the employer can be more confident in communicating openly and cooperatively with it. When it doesn't, it's tough for the employer to take the leap.

If you don't have both sides working toward productive two-way communication, you get the kind of headlines we've been seeing about Canada Post.


  1. Such public squabbling is unseemly, but all is not well at the post office.
    A Christmas parcel sent to me from Toronto sat at the Winnipeg post office for more than a week, as recorded by online tracking.
    Of course it was delivered late.
    Canada Post, can you spell UPS?

  2. Something must be done. Even if we are all communicating a lot more with email, I think package delivery is bigger than ever....ebay, amazon, Online stores like

    One way or another, Canada Post is not handling things well, this much is obvious to customers- thanks for bringing up this issue!

  3. This shows me that there is a need for more transparency at all levels.
    I hope this changes.