Women's History in the Postal Unions

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Wednesday March 21 2001
Women's History in the Postal Unions

1880-81 - A Royal Commission recommends hiring women in the civil service because they will be satisfied with lower wages. By 1884, the post office in Ottawa has 22 women third class clerks, more than any other government department.

1906 - Another Royal Commission notes that virtually all of the 366 third class clerks in the Ottawa post office are women. This is seen as a problem since third class clerk experience is a prerequisite for the higher levels, traditionally the preserve of males.

1914 - The women's branch of the Civil Service Association of Ottawa is created and denies it is a "militant" or "suffragette" group. (A post office employee is one of the founders of the branch.) Yet the branch adopts positions denouncing the denial of second class clerk positions to women and in favour of equal pay for equal work, and for promotion to positions women are qualified for.

1914 - 1918 - Some women work as letter carriers during the First World War.

1918 - During the 1918 postal strike, the wives of striking postal workers lead a massive parade of supporting unions through the streets of Toronto to Queen's Park, angrily confronting strikebreakers. The event is organized to counter rumours started by friends of management that the wives of the strikers were agitating for the men to return to work.

1947 - The post office fires married women who were hired as letter carriers and postal clerks during World War II to make room for men, especially veterans. In the entire federal civil service only the Defense Department hires more veterans.

1950 - Large numbers of low-paid, part-time and casual women postal workers were hired in the 1950's and 1960's. The union opposed the hiring of women. One local says in a submission to a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Post Office: "We are opposed to women postal clerks because they are too often given special treatment; they are placed on jobs that require no physical effort."

1955 - The restrictions on married women holding civil service jobs (including the post office) are abolished.

1959 - The first woman is elected to a national (not full-time) position in CUPW's predecessor union, the Canadian Postal Employees Association (CPEA), Regional Vice-President for Quebec North.

1961 - The Civil Service Act bans discrimination on the grounds of race, national origin, colour and religion, and brings in language requirements, but there is no mention of gender.

1964 - Canada's only woman letter carrier, Norah Stackard, is fired after one and a half days on the job because of her gender. A spokesperson for the Postmaster General says that the job will be reserved for men until the Civil Service Commission and the post office finishes studying the feasibility of employing women letter carriers. The president of the Victoria Federal Association of Letter Carriers also protests the hiring. "It's a man's job," he says.

1965 - With female letter carriers in mind, a new hat is designed to replace the cap. By the 1970's women began to be hired as letter carriers, especially in communities that had lots of better-paying jobs for men. In 1965 there are 23,644 full-time employees in the post office; only 619 (three per cent) are women. The percentage of women in the rest of the federal government is 30 per cent.

1967 - There are 12,200 full-time inside postal workers and 10,400 full-time letter carriers. 3,200 part-timers work in the post office, virtually all of them women postal clerks.

1967 - CUPW organizes part-time workers, who are mostly women. CUPW was initially opposed to including part-timers in the union. Inclusion of part-time workers increases CUPW's percentage of women members from six per cent in 1966 to almost 20 per cent in 1970.

1971 - Jackie Horkey of Vancouver is elected as the first full-time female CUPW local union officer. Women had been elected to local executives as early as the 1950s, usually as secretaries.

1974 - CUPW strikes illegally to fight the low-paid coder classification introduced to operate coder machines. This classification had become a predominantly female ghetto because of the low pay and the repetitive nature of the work.

1975 - Part-timers are brought into the same bargaining unit as full-time workers. Over the years, benefits between the two groups of workers become equalized.

1976 - The first CUPW local union women's committee is formed, in Vancouver.

1977 - Karen Nichols of the Ontario Region is the first woman appointed to a full-time CUPW regional position.

1977 - Martha (Maddie) Stockwell is the first woman appointed to a CUPW negotiating committee.

1978 - Colette Forest is elected local secretary-treasurer of Letter Carriers Union of Canada (LCUC) Local 15 in Edmonton, the first full-time female officer in LCUC

1980 - The CUPW national convention holds its first session on women's issues.

1981 - CUPW strikes for paid maternity leave. At the time, there is only one other instance of negotiated paid maternity leave - the Common Front of public sector workers in Québec. The CUPW strike rallies women's groups and focuses national attention on the issue. Half of the collective agreements in Canada now include some form of paid maternity leave.

1983 - Delegates to the CUPW national convention approve the addition of policies on women's issues to the national constitution - sexual harassment, child care, parental leave, equal pay, access to non-traditional jobs, reproductive choice, opposing violence against women and encouraging the establishment of women's committees.

1983 - Deborah Bourque of the Fundy Local is elected as a national union representative, becoming the first woman to be elected to a national position in CUPW.

1984 - National LCUC Women's Committee is formed.

1985 - Caroline Lee from the Vancouver Local becomes the first woman to be elected as a CUPW national executive committee officer.

1986 - Lorraine Tew is the first woman appointed to an LCUC negotiating committee.

1987 - CUPW negotiates a provision for a child care study in the collective agreement. The study, completed in 1990, shows that members are plagued by serious child care problems.

1989 - CUPW (42 per cent women) and LCUC (11 per cent women) become one union. The new union has 29 per cent women.

1990 - CUPW establishes a national women's committee to promote full participation of women at all levels of the union, identify workplace issues that affect women, and provide education on equality issues.

1992 - CUPW negotiates a $2 million child care fund which is controlled by a joint union-management committee.

1992 - Susan Dennis from the Prairie Region becomes the first woman to be elected a national director in CUPW.

1993 - A skills-building session for women is included in regional education seminars.

1994 - Regional education seminars include "men and women talking" sessions on equality issues.

1995 - The first CUPW Women in Leadership Development course convenes in Port Elgin, Ontario.

1995 - The union negotiates the right to control the $2 million child care fund.

1996 - The national convention decides that there must be gender balance on all national committees of the union and parity at education seminars.

1999 - The union holds its first national "Strength and Power" educational for women members at the CAW Education Centre in Port Elgin, Ontario. The educational deals with what the changing social and economic climate means for women and how women can organize and mobilize to fight back.

2000 - CUPW women from across the country join tens of thousands of women in Montreal and Ottawa to celebrate the World March of Women 2000.