‘Direct Action Revitalized Our Union’: New Canadian Postal Veep Has a Plan to Revive Militancy Coast to Coast

A group of smiling people in yellow vests stands inside a cafeteria. Several hold signs "CUPW Local 730 stands with you." Many have their fists in the air.

Inside workers at the Edmonton mail processing plant held a meeting in the lunchroom. Workshops on how to confront the boss have brought new energy to the local. Photo: CUPW

A letter carrier who helped organize a militant campaign of refusing forced overtime has won national office in the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, with the goal of taking that direct action approach nationwide.

Roland Schmidt, president of the local in Edmonton, Alberta, won a national election in May to became CUPW’s third vice president in charge of internal and external organizing.

Three years ago he won his local presidency on a platform of reviving shop floor militancy. Under his leadership the local has trained hundreds of members in direct action, revitalizing its workplace culture.

Resisting Forced Overtime

Roland Schmidt, now a CUPW vice president, and Devon Rundvall, now president of the Edmonton local, led a short version of their workshop “Taking Back Our Work Floor” at the Labor Notes Conference in June.

Hear from Rundvall in a Zoom call for postal workers on fighting mandatory overtime this Sunday, July 17, at 7 p.m. Eastern (4 p.m. Pacific). Email al[at]labornotes[dot]org for the link.


Schmidt has been a postal worker for 18 years. He was first drawn to Canada Post for its storied union history—CUPW had won collective bargaining rights for the federal sector, and maternity leave, which eventually became mandatory for all Canadians.

But “when I joined the local, it definitely did not represent the historical heights of what the union had accomplished in the past,” Schmidt said. “There was not much appetite for militant work floor unionism.” For him and a handful of like-minded activists, “it was a lonely road in the beginning.”

The break came five years in, when Edmonton letter carriers’ anger bubbled over at the company’s overreach on forced overtime, or “forceback.” The union contract was weak on this issue, allowing Canada Post to force carriers to work overtime on uncovered routes. This had become the company’s routine solution to chronic understaffing.

A grievance couldn’t fix the problem. But that meant “it was an opportunity for activists to come in with the solution of direct action,” Schmidt said.


The letter carriers started holding meetings at work. Management tried to consider this a job action, Schmidt said, “and we would just say, ‘Nope, we’re just all taking our coffee break at the same time.’”

They decided to start by confronting management to air their concerns: “This is how it’s hurting us, how it’s impacting our personal lives. Why can’t you get the staff?”

These confrontations unfolded over a period of months. When local managers couldn’t solve the problem, workers demanded to meet with upper management. Upper management arrived but offered only empty praise: “You’re all heroes. Let’s just get through the holiday season. You’re working so hard; you’re a credit to Canadians.”

“People got sick of the platitudes,” Schmidt said. “They started demanding staffing solutions, and saying that they would be willing to refuse forced overtime unless it was addressed.”

As word spread, letter carriers around the city wanted to join the fight. “People were very invested in the struggle,” Schmidt said. “This ties to this larger issue: are workers apathetic? Or are they maybe just waiting for the confidence to be a part of something that could work?”



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Management threatened to suspend anyone who refused a direct order; workers talked over the risks and decided to continue. The citywide boss came to browbeat them, but they laughed off her threats.

The next week, “the station managers were coming around very sheepishly with a clipboard,” Schmidt said. “They would go up to a letter carrier at a case and say, ‘You’re up for forced overtime today.’ All the workers in the area would go and stand by the worker who was being given the direct order—10 other letter carriers all gathered around, quiet, crossed arms, just waiting.”

When the first worker refused an order, the manager came back with a notice of a disciplinary meeting. “The next day we marched on management and said that the worker will not be attending this meeting, and if you discipline this worker, we will escalate,” Schmidt said.

“Then the next day the worker didn’t show up to the meeting, which means the company proceeds unilaterally.” But management held back from punishing workers.

“That was when we knew we had broken them,” Schmidt said. No workers were disciplined, and Canada Post backed off from ordering forced overtime.


As thrilling as this struggle had been, though, the energy dissipated. “People don’t want to fight all the time,” Schmidt said. “You have to build up the institution, train people and sustain the memory in between those big fights, so that when the next fight comes, people are ready.”

Several years later, hoping to build that change into the union, he decided to run for local president. When he took office in 2019, the local developed a one-day curriculum based on the campaign’s lessons, “Taking Back Our Work Floor.”

In four months, the union ran the course at least 10 times, with full classes of 25-30 members participating each time.

“That formed a very powerful nucleus in our local of people that understood how to confront the boss,” Schmidt said, “big enough pockets in each work facility that job actions started to pop up—refusing extra overtime for extra ad mail, or challenging a bully boss, or confronting management about chronic payroll errors or pressure to do extra work in the processing facilities.

“We got to share those stories in our newsletter, and when people read those stories, they also wanted to be involved. More people started coming to general membership meetings; more people wanted to be a part of committees.

“It had the effect of revitalizing our union.”


Schmidt wants to take this successful model on the road to other CUPW locals. He’s hoping with a national platform he’ll be able to help more locals to “embark on a proper internal organizing campaign, which, by building up the capacity of our work floors, would help people feel a part of the union again.”

The next step would be for locals to begin to collaborate with one another, and then regions, “and that all builds to the overarching problem facing our union—which is that the government, instead of collectively bargaining with us, just legislates us back to work.

“If we just build properly without taking any shortcuts, we could absolutely get our union to the place where we could have that discussion with our members about what it looks like to fight the government—and that would be a turning point for not only our union, but the entire Canadian labor movement.”

Alexandra Bradbury is the editor of Labor Notes.al@labornotes.org


TGARBATT | 07/16/22

I am a retired worker from Canada Post and have been active in the CUPW Union most of that career. I think the actions of the Edmonton Local were short sited and a mistake. The problem as cited in the article is that the company was understaffing. That is the truth and it was obvious because the employer was failing to contractually backfill and often had depleted lists of temporary workers to call on. The Union often brought forward the issue of backfill but the employer pointed out that the article in the contract that deals with the back fill was at the choice of the employer. As for the workers on the temporary list, poor wages and hard physical labour often made it difficult to maintain the workers on the list and on the other hand, those that managed to stay would eventually be offered regular positions and need to be replaced. Add to that the overburdening and long hours often faced by the letter carriers, injuries were depleting the regular staff. The contract contains article 15.14, which still remains, and allows for compulsory overtime, however the last contract and the current contract extension has suspended the use of the article by the employer. If we do not examine to deeply, this appears to be a monumental win for the Union and the workers they represent; or is it. Most of us are aware that governments are and have privatized public services and as a result that service has not gone well for the service or the workers employed in providing that service. Britain privatized much of the postal service and the service suffers to put it gently. Our conservative Government has attacked the postal service several times, and in my opinion, it is to reduce labour costs and attract privatization. This is why services have been quietly reduced over the decades. Free address changes now cost, door to door delivery is non existent in new housing developments, overnight in town mail service now is three days and the list goes on. All of these actions reduce labour, because service translates to labour cost, So, how is this related to the elimination of forced overtime? What we are now seeing is routes that at one time had to be delivered five days a week are sitting in the depot waiting for someone to deliver them. In turn this is introducing to the public alternate day delivery. If that is allowed to expand, alternate day delivery will lead to the reduction of jobs in the Post Office. Much of the strength of postal workers at the bargaining table comes from the support we get from the public. If the public becomes use to alternate day delivery, like they have become use to paying for an address change or walking to a community mail box to retrieve their mail, the postal workers will not see the public support to defend five days a week mail service. Is it a wonder why the company agreed to suspending the compulsory overtime article? I think not. I believe the company has seen how it is effective for their agenda. In fact, postal workers are still facing the same staffing issue that gave rise to the protest of forced overtime, That issue has not been fixed and has created another problem where when letter carriers return to work after a contractual absence, they are faced to deliver two days mail with no addition compensation and only paid overtime if they work it. Meanwhile the employer makes out like a bandit because they did not have to pay for the relief to deliver the route on the day of the original carriers absence. I think it is too early to pat ourselves on the back, because this is likely going to turn into a bigger fight to save thousands of jobs across the country. I sincerely hope I am wrong but this is the company that unilaterally without input from the public or anyone else tried to remove to the door delivery in 2013, only to be stopped by the public and a federal election.