May 21st of 2020 started off like any other day, with me waking up to a freshly brewed pot of coffee. It was a week after I celebrated my 55th birthday. My family bought me a laptop and I was parading it around the house preparing for an upcoming interview. The red dye in my hair was barely set when a knock came to my door that would change my life forever.
You can never really prepare for the feeling you get when you see a police officer at your door. A flood of emotions and “what if scenarios” play out in your mind and you barely have time to grasp the severity of the situation.
Your imagination is sometimes worse than reality. Sometimes.
I am not sure if I was in shock but when the officer explained to me that I needed to go to the hospital because my husband was in a serious car accident I replied, “I just dyed my hair.” Then, reality hit. The hospital was an hour away and I did not know a single person who could drive me. How can I drive when I am shaking and my sugar feels like it is going through the roof?
Shocker – The police officer told me I would have to drive myself as it was not their responsibility. Let me get this straight. My husband could die while I am on the road, and I could cause an accident driving under duress, but it’s not the responsibility of the police to ensure my safety? My thought at that moment was, “Then, what exactly are you doing here? You could have saved a trip and called me instead.” There is something seriously wrong with this. This situation needs to be addressed. It will, but that is a story for another day.
Agitated, I did the only thing I could do, I washed the dye out of my hair, canceled my interview, and drove to the hospital to learn that my husband had died at the scene a few hours earlier. The doctor put it this way, “Your husband did a U-Turn, hit a truck and died.” I was shocked at the callousness in her voice and that she was quick to blame my husband. My daughter had a meltdown.
After hearing this devastating news I had to drive my truck once again to get it out of the hospital parking lot. When I think back, I realize how dangerous that actually was. My children could have lost both parents on that day.
If things were not bad enough what transpired in the next six months makes my skin crawl.
Who do I hold responsible for my husband’s death? Covid-19? Canada Post? The Postal Worker’s Union? Myself? You will have to decide for yourself.
This story does not start on the date of my husband’s death, it began in June of 2019 when my husband Ross was hired by Canada Post as a relief mail carrier. From June to mid-November he did not work a great deal but things started to pick up towards the end of November and continued well into the new year.
An RSMC’s job is stressful because you have to be on call, continuously learn new routes and deliver all parcels and flyers in order to meet the requirements of the no return to depot policy set by Canada Post.
My husband Ross was relentless in his pursuit to do a better job by mapping out his own routes, taking additional training, and even driving to the area beforehand to prepare. That was his personality, a perfectionist who took responsibility for his own part in making his job less stressful. As we drove along the routes he would proudly point out areas of interest such as local restaurants, beautiful homes and potential camping sites. We would often savour the local flavor. Despite the pitfalls, he loved his job and was proud to follow in the footsteps of his older brother who had recently retired from Canada Post.
He was finally starting to feel a bit more comfortable in performing his job when the Christmas season hit. CBC Canada describe it as “Unprecedented Canada Post demand means no guarantee parcels will be home for Christmas” in its article from December 20, 2020.
Christmas time was so hectic that he was often called to help deliver parcels on Sundays and during the week alongside the “posties” as they like to refer to themselves.
A small break just after the holidays was short-lived when the Coronavirus outbreak hit. An influx of online shopping made way for the perfect storm. The employees described the situation as similar or worse than a Christmas and boxing day together.
In the early stages of the virus, my husband noted that there were no gloves or hand sanitizer in the depot. He was worried about getting me sick because I have a list of auto-immune diseases. Luckily, we were prepared for this and had lots of it on hand.
It was not until a number of complaints from employees across Canada did Canada Post begin to implement Covid-19 measures. The first measure was to ring and drop parcels. It did not help alleviate the amount of parcels only the method of delivery.
By this time things were getting hectic and my husband was working almost everyday. Eventually, additional Coronavirus measures were put in place because an employee contracted the disease and it was this decision that changed everything.
Canada Post implemented a sort staggering policy to limit the number of employees in the depot at the same time. My husband was informed that because of his lack of seniority, he would only be allowed into the depot at 10:30 to start to sort his mail before heading on his route.
Let me explain – While the concept of sort staggering is a good safety measure, the way in which it was implemented was (in my opinion) a complete failure. If you are an experienced mail carrier, your mail sort probably takes an hour or two and then you are out of the depot on the road delivering your mail. If you arrive at the depot at 7:30 or 8:30 you are heading out in the morning with ample time to finish your route during the day. An inexperienced mail carrier will probably take two to three hours to do the mail sort which means if they don’t arrive to the depot before 10:30 am they will not be starting their route until mid-afternoon. A mail carrier cannot deliver all mail and parcels during the day if they are only starting out into the route in the afternoon. This was my husband’s case.
As a result of the new policy, Ross was working late into the night, exhausted and under constant stress to deliver every piece of mail as per the no return to depot policy.
Monday May 18th was a holiday and as you can imagine this created an additional backlog on Tuesday that he was unable to complete. By Wednesday evening he was extremely exhausted and clearly overwhelmed. Almost in tears he kept saying,” I cannot deliver everything if I have to leave the depot so late. I tried so many ways to do it, it just cannot be done. I am not experienced enough yet.” I told him to stop putting so much pressure on himself and that if his supervisor didn’t understand how hard he was trying then his only option was to quit. He said she was trying to help.
Against my advice he decided to ask her if he could go in early on Thursday to just deliver parcels and catch up on the deliveries he had failed to do earlier in the week. He would then do the sorting of the mail later in the day at the depot. She agreed. On May 21st, 2020 my husband went into work early and was fatally wounded when he missed his last parcel delivery stop, went to make a U-turn on Route 201, and was hit on the driver’s side by an 18 wheel truck. He died at the scene because emergency crews were unable to get to him in time. Initially, it was thought that he died on impact and that gave me some comfort. This was not the case and I am sorry if you are hearing this for the first time.
Ross wanted to stay home during the pandemic to protect me but he knew if he was to ever become full time he had to work to prove himself. I wish he would have decided to quit because I would have him here with me instead of telling this story.
I have so many questions in my mind about why this happened. The one that I cannot seem to wrap my head around is how seniority overruled safety and why do we not care enough about relief workers in this country?
A typical day as a mail carrier means you do not necessarily work a full day, you get paid for the entire delivery route. It is well known fact that many rarely work past two in the afternoon.
In order to appease senior employees and maintain this “get home early idea” a decision was made to base the sort staggering on seniority. Most decisions in the union are made this way.
My husband was quite vocal to me about how unsafe this was, he said, “I am putting my life on the line everyday so that postal workers can get home before mid afternoon and I cannot even get home before dark let alone dinner time because by the time I finish my sort and leave the depot most of them are heading back to the depot to drive home. This makes no sense to me. Why can’t they work a full day and help out like the rest of the world? If they come back to the depot, why can’t they go back out and help deliver some parcels so we call all leave? I come in on my days off to help them. The rest of the world works a full day. Seniority should not mean that you endanger a colleague so you can get home early and still get a full day’s pay. We all have to do our part amid these circumstances. I put my life in danger so they can have sick days and take vacations yet they don’t seem to care about me.” I agreed.
RELIEF WORKERS MATTER.
During the months following this tragedy it became apparent to me how little value is placed on part time or relief workers as a general rule. These workers pay union and other dues even though they are not entitled to any of the benefits that a full time employee is offered. They are left out of the decision making process for policies and procedures that directly affect their jobs. Without replacement workers businesses would not be able to function when employees are sick or need time off. They should be considered vital employees but they rarely are.
Because my husband died while working I was able to file a claim for compensation. If you read my emails and speak to my notary you will likely be shocked to see how much effort and heartache I had to go through to make this claim. I cannot get into the details because I do not want to relive that nightmare or be sued for my opinion in the matter.
When the accident first happened, I was assigned a human resources person from Canada Post to help and was assured by the Quebec regional manager that they would do everything they could to help. It took two weeks to finally get through to her. She never called me back and when I was finally able to connect with her she made it clear that there was nothing they could do because while my husband was in the union and paying dues, he was just a relief worker.
In the end the compensation was based on the amounts provided by Canada Post. Canada Post calculated my husband’s yearly salary based on his part time earnings but at the end of his life he was working on a full time basis and would have made a lot more money in 2020 than he did the year before. As a result, I am getting half of the amount of money that I was quoted from CNESST initially. If I hear well your husband was only an on call relief worker one more time, I will have to scream.
A relief worker comes in when everyone else goes out.
Essential workers all across the world are doing their part. It angers me when I hear people complaining that parcels are not delivered on time or that they are left on the doorstep when my husband lost his life to make sure people actually got their packages.
I have written this post a million times in my head and finally decided to share it because I cannot find closure if I don’t make sure that my husband’s story is heard. Did my husband die of Covid-19, no but he did die as a result of it and I still think it needs to be counted.
I have hope – Maybe after reading this Canada Post can make better decisions that affect all of its employees and the union will start to consider than in some cases seniority is not the best answer.
Did Covid-19, Canada Post and the union play a part in my husband’s death? What do you think?
I personally do not blame anyone for his death but I do think there were litigating circumstances that may have contributed to the stress that he was under. He was exhausted, overwhelmed and the stress of it all caused him to make a fatal error while driving. He was the best driver I have ever known and I still cannot grasp the fact that he made that mistake.
When it first happened I went onto CJAD to tell the story, you can listen to the podcast here: https://www.iheartradio.ca/cjad/audio/canada-post-employees-are-overworked-and-her-husband-lost-his-life-while-on-the-job-1.12587308
In the aftermath of all of this I decided that my husband will not die in vain. I am working on creating a charity in his name to offer emergency rides to people in immediate distress so they never have to go through what I did.
The charity will include a community radio station and several live band shows to honor his love for music and to help raise funds to pay for gas, parking and administration costs involved in the project. You can donate by email transfer to firstname.lastname@example.org. for the time being or on our website once it is complete. rossradio.ca. If you would like to become a Radio DJ, Podcaster or volunteer please feel free to email me at the address indicated above.
You must be logged in to post a comment.