Postal workers want post offices to be key part of the greening of Canada


GOING GREEN DOESN’T HAVE TO BE A BRAIN BUSTER. A 2016 proposal by CUPW (Canadian Union of Postal Workers) proves it. The proposal begins with the obvious and works forward.

Obvious point #1: If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Canada Post makes us a lot of money—a pre-tax profit of $74 million in 2017.

Obvious point #2: Realize the value of what we already have—namely, Canada’s largest transportation and shipping network. We own 6,200 post offices. That’s almost twice as many post offices as there are Tim Horton’s.

Obvious point #3: We own all of it already.

Take advantage of all of that and you have the CUPW green plan: use Canada Post as it is, where it is, to take the greening of Canada directly into local communities sooner rather than later, without betting a bundle on experimental technology.

Union plan full of ideas

The CUPW green vision starts with three key initiatives:

  • put solar panels on all post office roofs
  • use made-in-Canada electric vehicles
  • install electric vehicle charging stations outside each post office.

But, the union’s vision goes beyond green sustainability. They would also offer the delivery of farm food to our homes, checking in on elders, and the promotion of climate-friendly businesses. Most dramatically, they would also offer postal banking: affordable basic services as well as loans and support to start local renewable energy projects.

The fact that a lot of this sounds like so much “pie in the sky” is not because it is not practical. It just reminds us how we are captives of the conservative story that public services have no place in our future; that they are no longer vital, vibrant and essential—despite all evidence to the contrary.

The truth is elements of each one of the policies the postal workers propose have been successfully implemented in other countries: food delivery to communities in France; electrification of postal vehicles in Norway; assistance to elders in Japan; and postal banking in Germany, New Zealand, Brazil and Italy.

In Germany, many municipalities now produce more power from renewable sources than they consume—creating 400,000 new jobs in the process. Widespread local participation was the key to making that transition happen.

How to pay for it?

To finance the union’s proposals, there is one obvious possible source of funds besides taxpayers or Canada Post: workers’ pensions.

The CUPW pension plan, for example, has about $25 billion under management. The workers, however, have no say over how their pensions are invested.

That situation isn’t unusual for Canadian workers, said Tessa Hebb, a researcher at Carleton University’s Centre for Community Innovation.

“Some representation from employees would be really beneficial, both for the positive components for adjusting to a low-carbon economy and also for the basic protections for workers,” from bad decisions by pension fund managers, she said.

In the USA pensions under union control, or jointly managed by workers and management, have made a series of profitable investments in green technologies or urban renewal projects like affordable housing, she said. And there’s no reason why Canadian unions couldn’t do the same.

“Ten years ago, if you were a pension fund in California and you were an early investor in Tesla, you certainly made your money back and then some,” Hebb said. “The shift to a low-carbon economy is going to bring forward some really interesting investment opportunities.”

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