Prime Time Crime


(Published in the Chilliwack Times week of June 13, 2011)


Thinking about labour issues


  By John Martin


I'm told Canada Post is on strike. I hadn't really noticed it but come to think of it, I haven't been getting as many Kentucky Fried Chicken coupons in the mail.

I honestly don't recall the last letter I wrote or received, all my bills are sent and paid electronically and anything important that's delivered to the door (usually BBQ accessories) comes by way of courier. I really don't know there's another so called "essential service" that could disappear and would have less impact.

There's a mailbox on my neighbour's boulevard. Well, sometimes it's on his boulevard. Usually it's on its side and lying on the sidewalk. At least once a week, kids on the way to or from school knock it over and Canada Post sends someone to put it back up. I've been told the person gets paid quite nicely for doing so.

I've often wondered why they don't just put the mailbox across the street. There's no sidewalk there so no one ever walks on that side of the street. But I guess someone wouldn't have as much essential service to perform if it didn't keep getting knocked over. It's lying on its side this very moment.

There's another labour issue going on. BC has some problems with its sheriffs. Sheriffs in this province aren't like the sheriffs on TV. They don't keep law and order in frontier mining towns. No, they do more mundane tasks. One of these is to provide security in courtrooms during trials. But there's been a shortage of sheriffs lately. So criminal cases, including some very serious ones, are being postponed or cancelled altogether.

Dean Purdy, speaking on behalf of the BC Government and Service Employee's Union claimed, "They've been scrambling in Abbotsford and Chilliwack to provide security for a judge so he or she can run their courtroom."

I thought it would have made sense to hire some more sheriffs so justice could proceed in a safe and efficient manner. Instead, we just laid off another 34. But the province has found a partial solution. The sheriffs who still have their jobs are working overtime to try to cover the shortage. Somehow, that just doesn't quite make sense.

Workers in the public sector are worried about the federal government's cost-cutting plans. Many people have little sympathy for government employees. Studies typically show that someone in the private sector performing the same job with the same experience earns 23% less than his government employed counterpart when benefits are factored in.

How did that happen?

I recently read a story about a public sector employee, much like myself, who would stop for a take-out coffee every morning on his way to work. After several months he would strike up a friendly conversation with the cashier, a woman almost old enough to be his mother. It turns out she retired a few years ago after running a restaurant her entire adult life. But her retirement income wasn't enough to live on so she went back to work. It dawned on the gentlemen who stopped for coffee each morning that part of the taxes she pays will help fund his guaranteed, government pension. He tips her well.

Personally, I've been very fortunate on the labour front in my lifetime. I've never been on strike and I've never been laid off. Sure I was fired a couple times back in the day but I kind of deserved to be.

Making on air jokes about the radio station manager's pot plants probably wasn't my brightest career move.

John Martin is a Criminologist at the University of the Fraser Valley and can be contacted at


Prime Time Crime

Contributing 2011