Canada’s postal strike hurts some, no big deal to others

Have you tried to mail something to Canada lately? If you have, you may be one of the few Americans who realized that the Canada Post was shut down for about 13 days thanks to a postal workers strike.

About 48,000 postal staff went back to work today after the Canadian Parliament passed a bill that forced them to return. After sorting through mountains of mail, delivery service is expected to start flowing again by Tuesday.

So I must confess, I didn’t realize Canada Post was on strike until this past weekend.  And a quick poll of fellow news-consuming coworkers (one who once lived in Canada) also had no idea. Sure we live in Texas, and Canada isn’t always on our news radar. But even national coverage of this nonevent was buried.

How could this happen? We Americans get a little wrapped up in what’s going on here. And there’s a lot going on to distract us: wild fires, the struggling economy, the troop draw down, “Weinergate”, the NBA playoffs and heck, Kim Kardashian just got engaged. But maybe we didn’t notice because it wasn’t that big of a deal.

Sure, the shutdown cost the Canada Post some $70 million in revenue. And small Canadian business owners were forced to take on additional costs as they were only able to ship through private delivery services.

But all of this got me thinking. If the US Postal Service went away what would I miss: Credit Card offers, coupons for $25 off a carpet steam cleaning, a birthday card from my mom, the next Netflix movie in my queue? Most crucial delivers in my life are made electronically. My paycheck is deposited into my account electronically and I pay all of my bills online. Items that I order often come via UPS or FedEx.

The USPS and Canada Post have been losing market share for years, and each has struggled to make a profit as Internet usage has increased. Here in the US the idea of eliminating Saturday delivery service is closer to becoming a reality, and both government agencies have increased postage rates recently.

Canada Post tried to cut costs by reducing wages (that’s what sparked the strike). However, by striking, Canada’s postal workers may have helped the country realize that they can go on without them. By shutting down the mail for 13 days people began finding alternatives and workarounds. The strike turned out to be an exercise for what may become the inevitable shutdown of the public postal system.

So if the US Postal Service shut down, would you notice? Or could you deal without?

~

Photo by Michael Francis McCarthy, used under a Creative Commons licence.
Laura Huchzermeyer

Laura Huchzermeyer is an industry specialist for D&B's First Research at Hoover's. She keeps a watchful eye on the financial services, construction, and real estate industries. Follow her on Twitter.

Read more articles by Laura Huchzermeyer.

Comments

  1. The cost of FedEx, UPS, DHL etc are very expensive in Canada. This strike and then lock out affected small businesses in a big way here because they couldn’t afford to ship using couriers without losing their profits and customs don’t want to pay the high courier prices either. Glad it’s over and that the mail should be flowing again by tomorrow.

  2. Bobbi Lee says:

    Well I must admit I was unaware of the Canada Postal strike, until my customer wanted an order of my merchandise and I was unable to send it to her. I wanted to say we depend on the postal service in USA to deliver our products in a timely manner at a reasonable rate. The cost of shipping UPS or FED EX would put us out of business. Thanks for letting me comment

  3. The US news media again let us down by not informing us better about the Canadian postal strike. It has been very burdonsome on small businesses that depend on the postal system to deliver small merchandise shipments.

  4. Your point of reference for this post is totally out of touch with reality. The US and Canadian postal services have been providing a critical service since the 18th-century. Sure they aren’t perfect and their market share might be smaller … but hey — the market share of broadcast TV is also smaller but hardly not important and are actually still the dominate way most people get their news — as dumb as that may be.

    Do you have any idea of the difference in cost between shipping something by the USPS versus FedX or UPS — especially from the USA to Canada? …

    You should do a little more rooting around before making stupid declarations like, “no big deal to others” … what planet do those others live on? Maybe you’d rather get your mother’s birthday card by email, but I sure as heck prefer paper for some bits of my life….

  5. Getting a job at Canada Post is like winning the lotto. High pay for low skills and retirement for life at 55. No wonder they are becoming obsolete in favor of online online banking etc.. and courier services. They just rang their death knoll imo.

  6. Tracy Petley says:

    There was a rotating strike for awhile which didn’t knock out any service one day at a time a post office would be out, that was the only work to rule action by the postal workers. The actual time the postal service has been stopped was due to a lock out of the workers by the government who pays their wages. Which we as Canadians pay taxes to. This outage will cost me big time as my pension check is stuck in the back log someplace and I likely won’t see it for about 3 or 4 weeks and my last check was late which cost me banking charges. This is not due to the workers though its due to the governments actions.

  7. The C.U.P.W are trying to find loop holes in the bill. This bill will work for 4 years if theres none.

    [not everyone can survive w/o mail]

  8. DrellaJones says:

    Cottage industry crafters like myself depend on the lower rates of the USPS vs. UPS and Fedex to send out packages. If the USPS were shut down it would be detrimental to small business owners in the US. I tired to send out a Canada bound package this weekend. I choose not to spend $20 with USPS or Fedex $6 more then USPS for a package that only weighs 0.10lb.

  9. We still need the postal system. I ship dozens of items a week via USPS First-Class. I can ship a small first-class order anywhere around the world for less than $10. If I was forced to use Fedex or UPS it would cost 5 times as much and my customers can’t afford that, so my sales would drop.

    Canada has a very slow postal system. They need some improvements somehow.

  10. Jan Dennis says:

    Trust me, if you live in the US and have children and grandchildren in Canada (as I do), you would appreciate the
    postal service. In January, I sent a 32 lb. box-size of a small microwave-to Calgary, Alberta using FedEx normal delivery. The cost was $240. I have used the mail since then, and, while still expensive, it is affordable. Today, I tried to mail a package and my post office was not accepting any mail because of the prolonged strike. So I took my small package weighing a few ounces to the package depot. The cost to send this one (under a pound, box the size of a book) was $106. For some reason, FedEx is my only choice for parcels to CA. I’ll wait on the end of the strike and will be glad to have that option.

  11. As a resident of Ontario the postal strike really didn’t affect us that much if at all. Similar to the previous statement in the above article, both my wife and I receive our paychecks via direct deposit and all of our bills are registered to our online banking account. As it’s been for years we were lucky to check the mail box once a week, but usually had to before the second week rolled around to recycle the coupons and junk mail. The only thing I was really waiting for in the mail this week was a new pair of work boots I had order online. They were sent to me via FedEx right to my door, saving me the inconvenience of walking down the street to my mail box to retrieve my notice card, then driving down to the post office to pick up my package….thanks Canada Post, but you’re becoming obsolete.

  12. Hey cowgirl!! (you did mention you are from Texas)…..YES I DID notice the Canada Post went on strike. As a matter of fact, as a result, my chequing (Canadian spelling ) account became overdrawn for the first time ever in my life. Why? Cuz, sista, I have dual citizenship, my home is in Canada, and I am in the states working to pay for it. I mail money home cuz there is no way to transfer it electronically between the countries. (Archaic I say). So I am quite pleased to hear they have gone back to work, and hopefully my hard earned American $$s will make it there before my Mortgage payment is due. By the way, when I send $600US home to Canada, it is only worth $565 CDN. Boo hoo.

    In addition to this money deal, my birthday cards did not make it to my mailbox …….shucks, eh?

    Cheers!

  13. J Ferro says:

    Soon all they will be needed is for shipping packages and Christmas Cards

  14. Debra Blazer says:

    Being a small business owner, it would seriously harm me if the USPS shut down. Even the Canadian Post being on strike has caused some undue stress being that a lot of my business is international.

    Shipping items via USPS first class is still the most cost effective method. Not to mention that I am pretty good aquaintances with most of the local postal workers and they are a great bunch of folks.

  15. Glen S. says:

    I, among other things, sell instructional posters worldwide, including a significant customer base in Canada. Standard first-class delivery is the only cost-effective method by which to ship these posters. Using an alternate package delivery service would raise the shipping costs alone to twice the retail value of the product itself – not a valid option. So yes, for small business guys like me, the postal service is essential.

  16. Linda Murphy says:

    I went to the U.S. post office here in Olympia yesterday with the intention of sending a package to my friends who lives in British Columbia. I was startled to learn that the US postal service workers weren’t even able to accept my package and hold it until the strike ended. So I brought it back home. Thank you Laura for letting me know that I can probably get it mailed out in a day or two.

  17. Kimberly Ann says:

    If you consider 85% of the small businesses here in Canada as a mere “hurting some”, then you’ve got some issues here. If you knew anything at all really, you’d realize that there are MANY people that use it exclusively for shipping and receiving goods and supplies. Not to mention ALL of the rural areas up here that rely on their services. Do you expect them to do this through Ethernet cords?

    Just to make things clear, most of the employees WANTED to go back to work – they weren’t forced. They were on rotating 24 hour strikes, still getting out the mail and merely delaying it, before Canada Post, their employer, LOCKED THEM OUT.

    I could most likely go on and on about the “false-facts” you presented in your article. Please, do America a favour and just stick to writing about things you know about – not half-know about. Here’s a suggestion: If you want true facts about Canadian news, then follow the Canadian news – don’t just make crap up from your perspective over the fence. Pretty simple.

  18. Spencer Roddan says:

    You do much shipping Laura? I imagine not. Shipping to Brazil or Argentina by a private company is roughly twice as much as by USPS. What would you miss but junkmail? Like that’s the somehow the post office’s fault, what are you talking about. Ever heard of spam? Is that also to blame on yahoo or earthlink? I was one of those Americans who was rooting for the Canadian Postal workers over the last couple weeks. I found your little “It got me thinking”…. copy almost offensive and completely out of touch with reality. The post office, public libraries, waste management, and countless other jobs are thankless and undervalued occupations thanks to people like you. In reality it the people that do jobs like these that should be honored and respected.
    Sincerely,
    Spencer Roddan- SLC Utah

  19. Anthony says:

    Laura,

    Canadian postal workers instituted a rolling strike thus slowing service. Management then locked the postal workers out and so shut down postal service completely. Facts really do matter.

    Anthony

  20. Agree with what your saying sort of. Canada Post have indeed been losing market shares over the years, however have still been able to post profits for there 15th year. Canada Post is also an excellent job – Pretty good wages, benefits, vacation and pension (They employ approx. 71 000 people). They still manages to reinvest in Canada (3 billion). I don’t think Canada could go without Canada Post, they may have to downsize a bit more over the years with but Snail mail is not going anywhere anytime soon. Haha heck if it was, it would have happened already and US Post sorry I can’t comment on that.

    http://www.canadapost.ca/cpo/mc/aboutus/corporate/annualreport.jsf

  21. I own a small business and do all my shipping through USPS, I would perfer to pay $1.75 to ship a small package as opposed to $18 through UPS. I would loose more sales if I had to charge more for shipping than the item I am selling.

    I might be one of the few who still pay bills by check and send them snail mail. This service I could probably do without but someone needs to support an important service we cant loose.

  22. Laura Huchzermeyer Laura Huchzermeyer says:

    I agree that small businessses would be hurt the most by paying bigger fees for delivery. And if the USPS went away it would be one less competitor in the marketplace.
    I dont’ think snail mail and USPS delivery service will ever completely go away. It just may have to change.

  23. Steve Seebart says:

    I sell books online and were it not for the USPS Media Mail rates, chances are I would be out of business. No private delivery company offers a comparable service and price, nor do I believe they could match the reliability of the service.

  24. Laura Huchzermeyer Laura Huchzermeyer says:

    I think it’s rather apparent just by looking through the comments left here that this strike impacted people in various ways. For “some” it WAS a big deal. For “others” not so much.

    It all depends on how you use the postal system. If you rely on it for your business, or paychecks, etc., this was probably a very big deal. If you are like some people and pay most things online or only check your mail once a week, then you weren’t as bothered.

    I grew up in a rural area, so I do understand how the postal system can be your only lifeline to the world. Each day my father walks the quarter of a mile down the road to the mail box to get his stack of bills, correspondence and the day-old newspaper. The postal system may have some flaws, but it does serve a purpose.

    ~
    I was inspired to write about the strike/shutout after chatting with a local seamstress who, like many small business owners, was unable to ship items to Canada through the mail. I was shocked that I hadn’t heard or read about it in the news. So why was that?

    I grabbed the New York Times on Monday to see if maybe I had just missed some big story about it. But there it was, buried on page 2 of the business section. When I began writing, I couldn’t help but bring up the fact that the news about the strike hadn’t penetrated the US. For an event that impacted so many people, why wasn’t it a more important news item?

    It is interesting to see everyone’s thoughts about this topic. Keep them coming

  25. Laura Huchzermeyer Laura Huchzermeyer says:

    Independent online sellers seem to rely heavily on the postal system.

    I’m a big fan of Etsy.com (an online shop filled with individual craft makers). I peeked on their message boards yesterday and Canadian Esty sellers were hugely impacted my the Canada Post strike. Some were even carpooling to the US so they could ship their items on time.

  26. Catherine says:

    FYI!

  27. Betty Svingen says:

    We are small business and rely heavily on the postal service. We pay all our bills, receive and send out 90% of our invoices through Canada Post and receive 90% of our payments from customers through mail. This strike has almost crippled us financially as even though we are not receiving any money we are still expected to make arrangements to pay our vendors. We are SO HAPPY they are back on the job!

  28. Chris Huston Chris Huston says:

    It seems that until a low-cost competitor to the national postal services emerges there will ALWAYS be a large enough group of people using them to keep them vital. That’s not hard to fathom considering the needs filled by the digital world and the physical.

    Digitizing correspondence, bills, money, even products like video games, books, movies, and music all makes sense. But how could one digitize things such as, say, a Buffy collectible figurine (not that I have any of those), or a sofa, or a set of china?

    There may be lots of stuff we don’t envision now as being digital-capable (digitized wallpaper or automobile paint, anyone?) that could well become so at some point, but it seems that there are some things that will just never lend themselves to it, things we get on eBay that need — just to pull an example out of my head — distribution by an inexpensive postal carrier.

    Glad our neighbours to the north are back in the parcel pink (or rather, red, as it were).

  29. Tom Perry says:

    For years and years I have always been late mailing my sister’s birthday present to St. John’s NL. So this year I turned over a new leaf and turned up at my loccal US post office, two weeks early, with parcel, customs form and postage in hand. The guy across the counter had a great laugh and sent me packing. So much for planning ahea….D. Sorry, Sis.

  30. I’m an American living in Australia. My wife and I own a small rental condo in the US, but our mortgage is here in Australia. The rent is paid monthly into our US bank account, but we have to transfer the money to Australia to pay our Australian bank mortgage.

    Unfortunately, our funds transfer service is in Canada. And they send out funds in bank drafts, via Canada Post of course. EFT (electronics funds transfer) only works within North America. So our only other option is wire transfer. However, that is prohibitively expensive, as we get double hammered….a substantial fee to send the money plus an additional fee from our Australian bank to receive it.

    So, bank drafts mailed via Canada Post are slow, but it’s our only affordable alternative. Now, with the Canadian postal strike, we’ve been pretty much screwed!

    Now that the strike is at least nominally over, hopefully we can now get the funds here to pay the mortgage on our American condo.

    Internet payments may be fine for Americans and Canadians receiving their pay check within the country and paying their bills domestically, but this strike is a disaster for those of us who depend on sending money overseas!

  31. Jimmy ATool says:

    On May 30, I ordered a rare book from Canada. I’ve yet to receive it as it was shipped via post. The postal rates on shipping are somewhat cheaper than the private rates, so its worth it to consumers to have a postal service.

    We’ve had postal service in the western world, on and off, since the Romans and I, for one, think the idea of the postal service going away is ludicrous.

    That said, whether or not its a private postal service is another question. The US government’s inefficiencies (I can’t speak for Canada, but it sounds like they face similar challenges) in managing the post office are glaring and obvious. They need to privatize and de-unionize. Unfortunately, that’s the only real solution to their problems. Competition will only help lower costs for all carriers (look at how cheap UPS is these days for ground shipping thanks to very reasonable USPS rates).

    As for ‘paperless’ solutions, I for one will not stop my paper bills until the companies that are asking me to do so give me a positive incentive to switch (such as a monthly discount).

  32. On 15 June I mailed my estimated income tax payment along with two other bill due on 1 July. As of 13 July none of the items have been delivered. Who knows what the Canadian Postal Worker have done with these items. I suspect the postal workers have destroyed these items rather go through the effort to deliver the backlog of mail resulting from the strike. The Canadian Postal Workers strike is a glaring example of why there should NEVER EVER BE UNIONS FOR GOVERNMENT WORKERS.

  33. Laura H. says:

    I can only imagine the work that a 13-day+ backlog would produce. I’m not sure how long it will take to get it all sorted.. and I’m sure some items may be lost forever.
    At least you will have a good excuse for your bills being late.

  34. Bethany P says:

    As the owner of an e-commerce based business, a good 10-15% of our orders come from Canada. Though, I’m a huge fan of FedEx, and rely on them to ship important domestic packages often, if the Canadian Post were no longer an option, I would have to totally re-configure my shipping options for Canadian customers. I would basically either have to eliminate the service entirely, or quadruple shipping rates. The Canadian post and the USPS are more valuable than people tend to realize. Yes, postage rates keep going up, but the fact that you can send something to another country for only $2 is still pretty amazing, and adds up to a lot of business for us.

    As for the backlog… they’re getting there. We mailed many items right before the strike, and two of them just arrived yesterday (July 15). It’s going to take a little time. Be patient.

  35. I´ve been following what I can about the postal strike in Canada. I´m a Canadian living here in Brazil, and I have to send some important documents to OAS in Canada. I´ve been waiting to do this for some weeks, but I haven´t been able to figure out if the strike has finally been settled and things are rolling again. The documents will be sent SEDEX (the Brazilian postal quick, safe service). I just want to make sure that the package will get delivered. Is it safe to send it now? Any comments would be a great help. Thanks.

  36. Laura Huchzermeyer Laura Huchzermeyer says:

    Bethany: thank you for an update on how you and your business is dealing with the strike. It’s interesting to know how people are still waiting on packages, etc. to be delivered.

    Judy: Also very interesting to remember that this strike didn’t just impact Canada, but also the entire world. According to the Canada Post mail delivery resumed during the week of June 30. Normal opertions resumed Monday, June 27.
    According to a July 11 update Canada Post’s largest mail processing plants in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver are opreating at full capacity. Its total network of 21 plant processed 55 million more pieces of mail than usual in order to catch up.

    So, all Canada Post faciliteis are accepting mail as usual and the backlog of lettermail was reported to have been processed during the week of 7/11/11.

  37. michelle says:

    I placed an order with a Canadian small business for a product they ship via Canadian Post, I live in NJ. The order was placed on June 27th, today is July 20th and I have yet to recieve my order.

    Is anyone else experiencing these same type of delays in delivery even after the strike?

  38. rolf franzke says:

    i am worried …i had to send my original canadian citezen papers to service canada
    for sin card and have not gotten anything back.now way overdue .hope to get it back soon .hope it is not lost
    rolf

  39. To those who claim that they ship via USPS because it is less expensive are the ones living in denial of reality. The truth is the USPS has been losing billions of dollars each year which is costing the U.S. taxpayers billions. The USPS is only less expensive because it does not charge enough for its services to offset its cost, much less make a profit. UPS, FedEx, etc. operate their businesses as efficiently as possible in order to make a profit. Should they not make a profit, they will not (and should not) receive the backing of the U.S. Government which is on the edge of bankruptcy itself.
    Were the USPS, and I suspect the Canadian postal service to charge for their services at a level necessary to break even, I also suspect it would cost the same or more to ship via USPS or Canadian P.S. than it would be to ship UPS, FedEx, etc.
    Laura Huchzermeyer calls it like it is, even though one may not like the message. Stop living in a dream world where you expect someone else to pay your way. Put the Post Offices on a level competitive market and they will not stand a chance unless they change their ways and adapt to a changing market and operate efficiently.

  40. na, shut them both down. there is nothing on printed paper that can’t be read digitally, its thousand times cheaper and a million times faster. the only bad part would be the loss of jobs.

  41. Madail "Maddy" Venancio says:

    My comment is a rebutal to Yelrab. Get your facts straight. The myth that the USPS operates on US tax dollars is just that….a myth. The US Postal Service is Completed run by the sale of stamps/postage. They do not take a penny of tax dollars. When the US Post Office reorganized in the early 70’s It became the United States Postal Service and no long receives tax dollars. Have that many americans been living under a rock for about 40 years! Futhermore the US Goverment owes the Postal Service approximately 50 billion dollars in overpayed funding to the retirement system. They’ll bail out the private auto industry with your tax dollars but will not repay what rightly belongs to the Postal Service.

  42. I mailed 2 Priority Mail flat-rate envelopes to Canada July 22. No sign of them as of August 10. Also, a first class letter was mailed to me from Canada July 28 — no sign of it. Postal services should be privatized. Imagine postal services driven by pride and profits and not using money expropriated from anyone.

  43. Can you tell me if the Canadian postal strike is over? If so, when did it end. If not, any idea when it will end?

    Thanks,
    Denise

  44. I just ordered something and have been told that due to the Canadian postal strike they cannot ship my purchase. From this forum it looks like the postal strike ended in July!@#$%&

  45. Laura Huchzermeyer Laura Huchzermeyer says:

    Yes, Denise, the strike and lockout ended in June. According to the Canada Post mail delivery resumed during the week of June 30. Normal opertions resumed Monday, June 27.
    I would double check with the company. Shipping should be up and running by now.

  46. Thanks for your quick response.

  47. well the postal strike hurt me and my family one of my applications for a special rental supplement was due in june ans they didnt get it till after the strike we now no long are getting it because of the due date even after they knew the strick was the reason for the forms not getting to them what would you do?? Kim

  48. Yes, USPS (and I guess Canadian Post) are more affordable, but I would have to assume that their shipping rates are not truly reflective of the what it costs to actually make the deliveries, hence the budget deficits they run into every year.

    I do not run a business that depends on either USPS or private carriers but I do order items online and it’s not very often that shipping is included, it’s usually tacked on seperately so I’m not understanding where you’re going to lose your profits. Maybe sales will drop which in turn will equal less revenue/profit is what you’re getting at.

    I’d be ok with shutting down the USPS, keeping my tax dollars, and making the determination whether to pay more in shipping or put my money back into my local economy.

    I don’t expect everyone to agree, but from what I can tell, every “business” that our government has tried to operate has failed miserably and with the financial peril we seem to be in at present, cutting our losses may not be a bad idea.

  49. Laura Huchzermeyer Laura Huchzermeyer says:

    Just to be clear, the USPS is a semiindependent agency designed to “break even” and not make a profit. (however, it hasn’t even been doing that lately). It does not receive tax dollars for its operations, but relies mostly on postage sales for revenue.

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