Google Trends tracks concern for Canada Post labour dispute

Canada Post says the threat of a work stoppage has had more impact on business than an actual stoppage

A Canada Post mailbox is seen near Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Thursday May 5, 2016. The government announced it will review Canada Posts operations. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

A Canada Post mailbox is seen near Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Thursday May 5, 2016. The government announced it will review Canada Posts operations. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Technology has changed the way Canadians communicate dramatically over the five short years since labour unrest last shut down Canada Post mail delivery. Social media has crept into all aspects of our lives. Canadians send more than 300 million text messages a day, up by 40 per cent since 2011. Meanwhile Facetime, Apple’s now ubiquitous live video chat app, had only just been launched. So it makes sense to think Canadians might be less panicked at the thought of being denied snail mail this time around.

That conclusion would be wrong, at least if Google is an accurate indicator of what’s on Canadians’ minds. Using the search engine’s Google Trends tool—which tracks the intensity of interest in a given topic relative to other searches—Canadians appear to be considerably more interested in this looming postal lockout than they were in 2011, with search interest roughly 20 per cent higher this week than during the week when the lockout began in five years ago. (The second peak in search activity in 2011 accompanied the former Conservative government’s decision to impose back-to-work legislation.)

Surprised? Don’t be. In the same way technology has changed how we communicate, it’s also revolutionizing how we shop, with more and more people ordering goods online for delivery to their homes—via Canada Post.

Since 2011, Canada Post has increased its parcel delivery business from 94 million domestic parcels to 133 million, establishing itself as the country’s top service provider. Until recently the Crown corporation was delivering two out of three domestic parcels in Canada. However now, under the shadow of a possible lockout, it’s lost 75 per cent of the business coming from its largest e-commerce customers.

“Just the threat of the strike has had as much, or not more, impact as an actual strike just a few years ago,” says Jon Hamilton, a spokesperson for Canada Post. “It’s that uncertainty.” Rotating strikes in 2011 culminated in a three-week lockout, only resolved when the federal government tabled back-to-work legislation—leading to the highest point of interest in “Canada Post strike” on Google Trends.

Canada Post and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers are again butting heads at the bargaining table—Canada Post saying it can’t afford the added cost of $1 billion CUPW is demanding. The ongoing dispute, and the possibility of a work stoppage as early as Friday, has forced Canada Post’s largest e-commerce customers—businesses who use Canada Post to deliver their goods—to make contingency plans.

MORE: Canada Post issues 72-hour lockout notice

“There’s no guarantee of any of that business is coming back,” Hamilton says. “Even more so if we have to return with a big jump in prices to pay for demands to get back in business.”

Even though the trending search term is “Canada Post strike,” CUPW is pressing the importance of distinguishing between a strike and a lockout—which is what’s currently being threatened by Canada Post. “A strike is when a worker withdraws their labour until they get x, y, and z,” says Mike Palecek, national president of CUPW. “A lockout is when an employer locks its doors and says you can’t come in until you reach an agreement.” He says this confusion is being caused intentionally by Canada Post in an attempt to provoke the workers into striking, and that CUPW has no intention of issuing a strike notice.

If Canada Post meets CUPW’s demands, Hamilton says it would force the corporation to increase shipping costs and make it harder to regain its status as the largest parcel delivery company in the country. The volume of letters delivered by the service has been on steady decline since 2006, and the only thing keeping the corporation competitive is its parcel delivery business.

“We can buy labour peace at a billion dollars, but then we’d be out of the marketplace,” he says. “The days of a monopoly are gone.”

While Palecek is definitely concerned that Canadians are taking their business elsewhere, he says the union has been sounding the alarm for months that Canada Post was preparing for a labour dispute. “It’s Canada Post that’s issued a lockout notice,” he says. “They’re the ones driving their business away.”

Purolator—of which Canada Post owns 91 per cent—is one company reaping the benefits of a work stoppage. In a statement to Maclean’s the courier company said it was already experiencing a significant increase in shipping demands: “Purolator is prepared, and has been in conversations with our current customers on contingency plans – which include additional staff and overtime hours – to ensure optimal service in the event of a labour disruption.”

UPS Canada issued a similar statement on its website. It’s also been tweeting to worried Canadian Twitter users to switch to UPS for their delivery service. Shoppers have been taking to the platform to reach out to large e-commerce companies like Amazon and TicketMaster, and check if their orders are going to be delayed in the event of a work stoppage. And e-commerce companies, in return, are tweeting to their customers letting them know about delays, and in some cases, complete suspension of service.

As big of a role that the Internet plays in Canadian commerce and communication, there are still people who rely on Canada Post for good, old fashioned letter mail service. In N.W.T., Yukon, and Nunavut, the intensity of searches for “Canada Post strike” relative to other search topics is significantly higher than the rest of Canada, because remote areas are more likely to use Canada Post to pay bills and send letters.

Canada Post strike google

The fact a larger number of people are googling the work stoppage before it even happens, whether they’re concerned about letter or parcel delivery, means they understand the implications of a delivery disruption; they remember 2011. So instead of waiting for it to happen, they’re taking the proper measures to ensure their mail doesn’t sit in dusty mailrooms for days, perhaps weeks. And if or when the lockout happens, the search intensity will likely increase even more.

“I can’t guarantee that somebody’s going to get something on Monday that they ordered on Friday,” Hamilton says, “so they’re going to go somewhere that can.”


Google Trends tracks concern for Canada Post labour dispute

  1. Well, peoples’ “fears” in 2016 are unfounded.

    I’ve been ordering away online (Costco, MEC, Amazon, others) this week. All of them say “don’t worry, we’ve switched to alternate deliveries and there will be no extra charge to you (or still free)).

    This is turning out to be a perfect setup for “who needs Canada Post?”, at least with respect to online shopping.

  2. I’m not following why Canada Post owns (well, 91% of it) Purolator Canada. What’s the purpose of that ownership and how does it serve the public interest?

  3. It’s a self-inflicted lockout, so may as well be a strike. If CUPW would accept Canada Post’s at least adequate offer, there would be no lockout. No one is buying CUPW’s claims of victimization. While I’m sure the rot in Canada Post extends all the way to the top, the reality is that CUPW is not in any position to make demands. Everything that Canada Post does is in decline, especially lettermail, or it is largely unwanted, such as junkmail. The only bright spot is parcels, which is hotly contested and very competitive. Expecting to continue receiving well-above-average salaries and benefits for unskilled labour in an either dying or radically restructuring market, in the midst of an economic downturn, is asinine. Beyond this, if you haven’t been following the many public comments following news stories on the labour dispute, there is the least amount of public support and greatest amount of public irritation and impatience I’ve seen yet in relation to a CP labour dispute. And support from business, whether the small eBayer or Amazon? I’m a unionized, left-leaning public sector employee on the one hand, whose job requires a minimum of a Masters (I have much more than that) and yet I make (after 15 years on the job) precisely 15% more than a letter carrier. Even fellow union members and staunch NDPers are pissed at CUPW. On the other hand, to supplement my income, I’ve been in mailorder or online sales since 1986. The first business I ran was destroyed during the wildcat strike in the summer of 1991. Needless to say, since then, I’ve been following CP labour issues closely. Small business is leaving CP in droves, and many will not return. The much vaunted parcel sector CP is relying on is, at best, tenuous. And the degree of either public disdain or disinterest in Canada Post leaves CUPW extremely vulnerable to something much more dramatic, a la Reagan and the air traffic controllers or Thatcher and the coal miners. Take the deal.

    • Nope sorry but the offer is trash. The Defined Contribution pension plan is absolute garbage when compared to what they have now which is the Defined Benefit plan. Sorry but I’m not so anti-Canadian to not support a workforce that deserves a good pension.

  4. This is the first report / blog piece I’ve come across that attempts to explain the summer 2016 Canada Post / CUPW situation in some meaningful way…

    For me, the most neutral way to understand it was this:

    During their renewal negotiations, The Canadian Union for Postal Workers (CUPW) asked for certain conditions to be met; among those requests was 1) for a more even distribution of pay among urban and rural postal workers, and 2) for a better pension plan than what Canada Post (CP) initially offered them early on in their negotiations. CUPW requested an extra 1 billion dollars to be allocated towards postal workers salaries and pension plans.

    (Note: One person told me that if CP accepts CUPW’s request for an extra 1 billion in pay for postal workers, than shipping rates would increase. But I don’t know if that’s true, or if that’s just something CP is claiming in order to force CUPW to reconsider their offer….)

    Anyway, Canada Post rejected CUPW’s terms and requests, and suggested that CUPW seek arbitration (i.e.: have a neutral outsider come in to renegotiate their own terms and then have this person present these new terms to CP in order to achieve conflict resolution). CUPW refused to have an arbitrary mediator make this decision for them, so CP threatened to “lock out” their postal workers and prevent them from coming into work / doing their job.

    This threat of a lock-out is different from a worker’s strike because during a strike, employees of a corporation must collectively agree to stop working. But during a lock-out, it’s the corporation that stops workers from either coming into the work premises, or prevent them from being able to do their job. Canada Post’s threat of a lock-out was made to push CUPW towards either accepting a deal more quickly, or force the workers to go on a strike. But postal workers did not want to go on strike and they don’t intend to because they don’t want their needs to be ignored in lieu of accepting a deal.

    This whole threat basically made businesses scared of losing revenue due to a similar CP/CUPW situation that happened in 2011, which ended up being financially crippling for businesses. So businesses immediately began changing their official mail carriers ahead of time to avoid the impact of a lock-out or forced strike. Companies who were signed to Canada Post (keep in mind that Canada Post serves a vast majority of the marketplace) changed their primary delivery systems to carriers like UPS and Purolator, in order to prevent any mail disruption and loss of revenue. During this time, Canada Post submitted a 72-hour-lockout-notice to CUPW, but then dropped it, claiming they were “expecting the union to honour their repeated public statements that they have no plans to issue a strike notice,” and that “As a result, there will not be a lockout, which will allow both parties to focus their efforts on serious negotiations.”

    If there is no lock-out and no strike, then technically speaking, mail delivery should go on as normal – albeit, delivery is being made by different carries now and not just Canada Post. So people can relax, because post (both letters and parcels) should actually be coming in just as normally as it did before – in fact, a lot of companies have even switched back to Canada Post upon learning there will be no lock-out or strike. However many businesses have continued to honour their new delivery contracts, and so carriers like UPS and Purolator are now backed up because they previously operated on a smaller scale than Canada Post. They are not able to deliver mail as fast as CP was, since the mail carrier used to hold a majority of the market and were a larger company – with more postal workers – to begin with.

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