Virus depletes mail-carrier ranks


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OTTAWA — As many as one-quarter of Canada Post letter carriers in Winnipeg are isolating due to COVID-19, as city residents complain about delayed mail.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 01/02/2022 (485 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA — As many as one-quarter of Canada Post letter carriers in Winnipeg are isolating due to COVID-19, as city residents complain about delayed mail.

Matthew Aitken, president of the local chapter of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, says the highly contagious Omicron variant has sent large numbers of full-time letter carriers into 10-day isolation.

“If we had to ballpark it, I’d say it’s been about 20 to 25 per cent,” he said, referring to absences for both illness and exposures.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Canada Post has refused to share any information on how much mail is backlogged and in which areas of Manitoba and Winnipeg.

Aitken said the Crown corporation calls in temporary workers to help when absenteeism spikes, while other staff work overtime.

“They’ll do their best to call in relief letter carriers. But they’re all people, so some of them are going to have COVID, as well.”

Canada Post did not respond to a list of questions last week asking about mail-delivery issues, but Aitken was happy to help explain why people across Winnipeg are getting delayed mail.

He said COVID-19 leave is the main culprit, but not vaccination mandates. According to internal data, only 243 postal workers have refused COVID-19 vaccination across Canada, representing just 0.4 per cent of the workforce.

Meanwhile, the repeated extreme-cold warnings in Winnipeg have had some workers cut their routes short. The company and union urge letter carriers to not exert themselves if they’re feeling unwell due to the weather.

That could be compounded by people getting more mail than normal along a route that hasn’t been served in a few days.

“Generally speaking, management in Winnipeg is reasonable with the weather. If it’s 25 below and you can’t keep going, it’s inhumane to make you (do so),” said Aitken.

He noted the volume of parcel mail was already increasing before COVID-19, putting strain on a system primarily designed to handle letters. The pandemic-fuelled online shopping explosion has left scant space in warehouses.

“The corporation’s business model is not designed to keep stuff; we want to move it, and we want to move it today,” he said, adding many Canada Post employees work extra hours at Christmas and take vacation time in January.

“There could be fewer people signing up to do overtime on a regular basis,” he said. “This is more of a recovery time for the workers.”

Aitken could not speak to issues in Manitoba’s northern region, but noted his union has long called for increased investment and services in the north.

In early January, the Free Press reported some remote communities, such as Pikwitonei, going three weeks without mail even after Via Rail resumed service after weather disruptions along the Hudson Bay Railway.

Residents of Leaf Rapids are dealing with a hospital closure while also not receiving prescriptions through the postal service.

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