Canada’s mail service shutdown frustrates Canadians, Americans

Locked-out postal workers picket outside a Canada Post office Friday, June 17, 2011 in Montreal.   Canada Post employees are on the defensive this weekend as they try to shore up public support, despite the looming threat of being forced back to work.
AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Paul Chiasson
Locked-out postal workers picket outside a Canada Post office Friday, June 17, 2011 in Montreal. Canada Post employees are on the defensive this weekend as they try to shore up public support, despite the looming threat of being forced back to work.
Posted June 22, 2011, at 7:35 p.m.

FORT KENT, Maine — A nationwide lockout of 48,000 unionized Canada Post workers is creating headaches for businesses and individuals on both sides of the border.

Postal workers in Canada began rotating walkouts two weeks ago over staffing, working conditions and safety issues.

According to Jon Hamilton, spokesman for Canada Post, the main sticking point in negotiations is the union’s demand for staffing levels beyond the capability of Canada Post.

Negotiations are under way, but in the meantime no mail is moving through, in or out of Canada.

“We have had to suspend accepting mail to Canada,” Patricia Licata, senior public relations representative with the United States Postal Service in Washington, D.C., said Wednesday. “We don’t want people to leave the mail at post offices because we don’t want to have their mail just sitting around.”

For individuals who have parcels or documents that must get to Canada, Licata said the USPS’ Global Express Guaranteed, or GXG, remains an option. GXG is the Federal Express arm of the postal service and offers international deliveries.

In border areas such as the Saint John Valley, the Canada Post disruption is having an impact.

Outgoing mail is starting to pile up at the University of Maine at Fork Kent, where roughly 15 percent of the daily mail is destined for Canada.

Everything from official transcripts to diplomas from May’s commencement are languishing on a table in the mailroom.

“If there are any acceptance letters that prospective students are waiting for, [the students] might assume they are not accepted” because they have not received notification to the contrary, Trisha Connor, UMFK switchboard-mailroom operator, said Wednesday afternoon. “Any official transcripts could cause a delay in a transferring or graduating student’s future plans.”

Canada Post published full color ads in 19 Canadian newspapers this past weekend to promote the Internet as the ideal solution to receive, pay and manage bills.

The ad does acknowledge Canadians “are increasingly being solicited to sign up to receive their bills electronically [and] consumers have to go to several different websites and maintain passwords, which many find both confusing and time-consuming.”

Just ask Don Lozier, owner of Don’s Motor Mart in Fort Kent. Lozier and his wife, Ethel, live in St. Francois, New Brunswick.

“Last Friday we got home and there was a message on the machine from NB Power saying that even though there was no mail, we still had to pay our bill,” Don Lozier said.

Lozier said he called the electric company to find out how to pay the bill and was directed to do so online.

After numerous attempts to navigate the company’s website, Lozier said he was finally able to determine the amount of his bill but not how to it pay electronically.

“I called them back and asked if I could just go somewhere and pay in person,” he said. “They asked where I lived and when I said St. Francois, the woman did not know where that was.”

Instead, she suggested Lozier go to Fredericton, New Brunswick, a three-hour drive, to pay his bill.

Lozier remained cheerful about the postal stoppage.

“The only mail we ever get is bills, and I don’t miss them,” he said.

Not so cheerful is Jeanel Levasseur, owner of J. Levasseur Auto Service, in Claire, New Brunswick.

“It’s affecting me big-time,” Levasseur said. “I can’t send out bills and customers can’t send in payments.”

Levasseur figures he can weather the postal stoppage for another month or so, but after that he fears he may have to seek alternate funding sources.

“Things might get a little desperate,” he said.

Back in Maine, Nancy Dumond Violette of Van Buren was trying this week to secure delivery of herbal medications for her dog from an outlet in New Brunswick. The conversation she had with Dave Laurie at Essiac was quite disturbing, she said.

“He told me he was very concerned because there are living things and perishable items just piled up in warehouses that can’t be delivered,” Violette said.

“People need to know about this.”

It was personal for Shawn Graham of Fort Kent. All he wanted to do was send his father in Moncton, New Brunswick, a card and gift for Father’s Day, but was turned away at the post office in Claire.

“It’s pretty disappointing I could not send my dad this token of appreciation on Father’s Day,” Graham said. “He does so much for me; I wanted to recognize that.”

On Monday, the Canadian government introduced legislation to end the walkout by ordering postal workers back to work. The legislation was unresolved Wednesday.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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