Canadian Magazine Industry News
18 May 2011,    
Editorial: postal strike spells disaster for all, especially union
The Canadian Union of Postal Workers threatens to strike May 25 unless a settlement can be found in the current round of mediation between the two parties. (See Masthead stories here and here.) At the risk of stating the obvious, a postal strike would be a disaster for all parties... but especially the union.

What union hard-liners appear unable to grasp is that most mailers have options. (It should be said that many postal workers get this and aren't following the union line.) Utilities, banks, retailers, any corporation sending a bill through the mail has for years been converting customers to electronic transactions. That trend has been increasing in recent months with contests, promotions and other incentives to get consumers to switch, including surcharges for receiving print bills and statements. A strike will provide even more incentive.

Once consumers switch, they won't be coming back to mailed statements.

The same is partly true for publishers. On the invoicing and renewal side, circulators have long been working to take efforts out of the postal system and replace with emails and auto-renewals. Postal strikes will only make it more urgent to do more in this regard.

As for the magazines themselves, it gets a little trickier. The vast majority of paid-subscription magazines are delivered through the mail. But:
  • more and more publishers are issuing iPad editions at cheaper prices
  • more publishers are switching to online-only titles, away from print
  • print circulations are decreasing overall
  • there is more incentive to use newsstand since single-copy sales also now count towards the Canada Periodical Fund subsidy formula
  • avoiding the post office is another reason for new launches to be distributed through newspapers, through bulk distribution (controlled), or through the newsstand
That said, magazine publishing is still largely a mail-order business with fewer options than other mailers have. The industry relies on a healthy, efficient postal system. A strike will cause cash-flow and customer-service chaos in the short term. Longer-term implications are more troubling.

It's true that unlike the financial sinkhole called the United States Postal Service, Canada Post has been returning a slim profit for the last several years. But over those years, Canada Post management has been warning loud and clear that its General Motors moment is coming soon. Postal volumes and densities are declining while the post office is forced to serve an ever-growing distribution network. It doesn't add up.

Canada Post's offer seems reasonable — more than reasonable for those struggling in the private sector. Keep the existing pension program for current employees, but introduce a more affordable (but still attractive) pension program for new hires. Last year alone, Canada Post had to top up the pension fund with $425 million, much more than the annual profit.

There are other issues, of course, including the switch to a new short-term disability plan that has already been implemented for all other bargaining agents, management/exempt employees, and senior executives of Canada Post. To help the union save face and find a solution before a strike, perhaps there are one or two concessions to be made here to workers.

But CUPW has to face the fact that the future of the post office is smaller, not larger. A strike now will just speed up that transition to a smaller, weaker post office. That is not in the interests of the magazine industry, or postal workers. A settlement, or failing that, quick back-to-work legislation, is called for.

Readers can receive negotiation updates and read more at a special Canada Post web page here.

— Staff
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