When schools closed in March, Darren Pleavin, father of Isaac and Seren, was granted leave from his job to stay home and take care of his children. Maggie Glasgow, his wife, works as program coordinator for Engage North at the University of Alberta.
Pleavin has worked for Canada Post for 10 years. He was off work for six weeks at the beginning of the pandemic and said, “The beautiful thing was how supportive Canada Post was. I did not lose any pay for those six weeks. I was on full pay.”
When Pleavin returned to work, he and Glasgow organized their schedule so he took care of the children’s morning routine and supervised them from when they started their school day until 10:30. Glasgow worked at her job from 6 a.m. to 10:30, and then took over childcare when Pleavin left for his shift. Glasgow worked her full-time job periodically through the day and into the evenings.
Pleavin sorts the mail for his route out of Downtown Depot and delivers mail in the Beverly neighbourhood. When Pleavin returned to work, the process was different. Changes were made gradually. For example, he did not step foot onto the floor until his exact start time. In addition, there were half the people on the floor. “Usually there are eight people sorting mail. Now there are four,” Pleavin explained.
“We take all our raw mail, which is given to us by route, and we sort it to order, both mail and parcels. I am inside for an hour at a time. We’re as distanced as we can be from the person who is sorting next to us.” On a personal level, he said, “It’s hard to get used to not shaking hands, slapping shoulders, and staying six feet away.”
Pleavin explained he needed to get used to the new routine. “My day is structured and I like that. I got used to the change [with Covid rules], now I am good with the change.”
Once he’s sorted his mail at the main depot, he drives to his route. He has 50 to 100 points of call and he bundles the mail into parcels based on stops. He fills his satchel about 16 times per day.
“There was a period at the beginning where our parcel volumes met our Christmas levels. One to two million parcels per day, Canada wide. It was an incredible amount.” He continued, “But you realize all retail had closed and people were ordering online.”
The mail “is touched by so many people along the line. It’s a long chain that I knew would come down to me.” He explained, “The [corona] virus lives longer on plastic than cardboard.”
Wearing a mask plays a large part in preventing transmitting the virus. At the time of the interview, his coworkers wore masks, although it wasn’t mandated.
He explained what mask-wearing looks like on his route.
“When I have to carry a large box up to someone’s door, I get winded and don’t like the mask. But I deliver to four seniors’ centres.” He continued, “I make sure I’m protecting them by wearing a mask and using hand sanitizer. I carry multiple masks. I change my cloth one for a disposable one at a seniors’ centre. I have my own mask, but Canada Post supplies sanitizer and gloves. Our superintendent brought in cloth masks.”
During the March to May lockdown, the volume of mail carried by Canada Post workers increased dramatically.
“There was a period at the beginning where our parcel volumes met our Christmas levels. One to two million parcels per day, Canada wide. It was an incredible amount.” He continued, “But you realize all retail had closed and people were ordering online. We are still seeing high volumes [in August], but it has slowed a little bit.”
The process for leaving packages changed. “I don’t collect signatures or money. Up until recently, we were ‘safe-dropping’ only [leaving packages on the porch]. There was an increase in porch piracy, so we’re not doing safe-drop anymore.” He noted that many people worked from home, and he can tell that “the size and weight of parcels has increased for sure.”
Pleavin added, “There is a shift in how society was getting everything online. New little businesses [home businesses] popped up selling stuff online. I pick up from their business/home. They print their labels and I get a call to pick up.”
He explained how interacting with customers has changed. “In this microcosm, there are a number of people who don’t consider we’re in a pandemic and want to take their mail from my hand. Whether they feel comfortable and confident because we have a rapport or because they don’t have concern, I don’t know. One old man came around the parking lot and came up trying to come closer and closer to speak with me and I had to tell him to back off.”
He continued, “I try to be conscious. Having lived overseas, as North Americans and Canadians in particular, we have an awareness of our special bubble because we have space. I lived in Hong Kong and everyone stands closer to you. But usually they are wearing their PPE.”
Pleavin lived in Hong Kong from ages 13 to 18 in the 1990s, and again from ages 20 to 22 and 28 to 30. By 2004, people in Hong Kong were wearing personal protective equipment such as masks because of their country’s experience with SARS.
He said there is a difference in attitudes between North America and Asia. “That part of the world is extremely pragmatic. The norm for other cultures is to have multi generations under one roof. Only in North America do you get out of the house as fast as possible. We’re driven by our own opinions versus corroborative facts. It is interesting to see how people conduct themselves, especially on the street walking.”
As a postal worker, he noticed residents at seniors’ centres standing outside in the sun, with no one wearing PPE.
“I feel nervous about going to these places, especially as they take the mail [from my hand] as I am handing it to them.”
Pleavin noticed a significant decrease in road traffic with most knowledge workers working from home.
“More people are active outside in suburban areas, utilizing spaces more. That translates to rush hour no longer being a thing. The volume of vehicles on the road has decreased significantly, even still, in August. There were four other cars at 5 p.m. on 111 Street.”
Pleavin shared other observations.
“Everything changed. The red letter box where we take the mail out—we used to have to do it exactly at 5 p.m. Now we are able to do it at any time. The amount of stuff I was carrying out of the Beverly Post Office was really high at 5 p.m. There was a constant line up during the day. It was really strange.”
Pleavin concluded, “I love working for Canada Post. It’s my second favourite job ever. In other jobs, the amount of work never ends. At Canada Post, I start my day with a finite amount of mail and by the end I have delivered it. It’s satisfying. I love the structure and routine. Except for the first hour in the depot, I am lost in my thoughts outside all day.”