Rural Alberta post offices feeling impacts of COVID-19 vaccine mandate

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Rural Alberta post offices impacted by COVID-19 vaccine mandate
WATCH: The union representing rural Alberta postal workers says roughly 150 people remain on unpaid leave due to their vaccination status. As Jessie Weisner reports, communities are feeling the impact – Dec 21, 2021

Nearly one month after Canada Post implemented its mandatory vaccine policy for employees, rural Alberta communities are still feeling the impact and mourning job losses.

Carolyn Fritzler has lived in Didsbury for nearly 40 years and last week she was shocked to hear her local post office was closed for two days.

The doors reopened, but wait times were quite long.

“We came last week, my husband had to send a registered mail and we were parked across the street,” said Fritzler.

“It was 45 minutes in line outside waiting to get in and I guess that’s because maybe they were short-staffed, I don’t know.”

The Alberta president of the Canadian Postmasters and Assistants Association, Xan Moffat-Toews, confirmed at least one employee at the Didsbury post office has been on leave without pay due to their vaccination status.

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She said the Didsbury closure last week was due to a positive COVID-19 case, but the office is also understaffed.

In a statement, Canada Post confirmed the closure, but only cited staffing issues.

“The Didsbury post office was closed (on) Friday and Saturday due to an unexpected staffing issue, with a temporary solution not available,” the statement said.

Although residents are feeling the impact during the holiday season, many are more upset employees aren’t allowed to return to work due to their vaccination status.

“A little town like this, it’s really hard to get it to balance and function properly when you start closing down people’s jobs. Very quickly it affects other businesses as well, and I think that’s really sad,” said Fritzler.

“I do feel bad for the people that are not getting persons at Christmas, but my biggest thing is now there’s people that are being let go,” said Janice Raynard who’s also a Didsbury resident.

Canada Posts vaccine mandate came into effect November 26 and requires all employees to be at least partially vaccinated.

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“Rural offices are quite a bit different than the cities simply because we know all of our customers. You know them by name, we know their brothers and their sisters and their uncles and you know, we’re in the community. We’re very involved in our communities,” explained Moffat-Toews.

Moffat-Toews said approximately 340 workers in Alberta were put on leave without pay at the end of November.

She said that initially closed 13 offices, and reduced hours at others.

“Alberta was hit probably the hardest with the closures,” she said. “What happens when a catastrophe like this happens, we are so short, so they take a member from a bigger office and put it in a little office. When they do that they make all the others short.”

She adds it wasn’t only post office employees affected, she’s also seeing a shortage in route drivers that deliver the mail.

“There’s been a lot of those people out too. So when you have a route down that usually delivers five days a week. Then they’re going to find someone else to replace that person and maybe do it two days a week. It’s quite an inconvenience for those customers,” she said.

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Moffat-Toews said about 150 workers remain on unpaid leave as of December 21.

Meanwhile, Canada Post says the vast majority of its employees across the country are in compliance with the vaccine mandate.

However, in Didsbury, residents hope communication with the community improves.

Crystal Wollman said when the office closed last week, no one had any idea why. She said this caused rumours to spread, and division in the community to grow.

“I do believe Canada Post can discuss that and have clear communication on what is going on. Instead of non-answers, that would be very nice,” said Wollman.

Moffat-Toews assures Albertans in rural Alberta will still receive their mail — it just might take a little longer.

“We’ve got lots of people very stressed trying to get everybody set up perfect. It will be, it always ends up being okay because they go above and beyond every day. The members in the rural offices.”

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