In the remote northern Alberta town of La Crete, much of the lifeblood of the rural community still passes through the post office — bills, packages, even cheques for cattle sales.
This week the town's mail centre had to shorten its hours after two full-time employees quit. The resignations, according to their union, were in protest of Friday's vaccine mandate deadline.
By next week, many more post offices could struggle as Canada Post employees across the country are put on unpaid leave for refusing to be vaccinated. The Crown corporation is not accepting regular rapid-testing as an alternative.
The Canadian Union of Postal Workers and the Canadian Postmasters and Assistants Association, which represent 60,000 members, have filed grievances against the corporation.
A cease and desist application filed by CUPW is set to be heard by an arbitrator on Wednesday.
Jan Simpson, national president of CUPW, says the union encourages members who can to get vaccinated.
"However, we won't stand for one of our members losing their livelihood while there exist other ways of ensuring the health and safety of the workplace," Simpson said in an emailed statement.
"We want to make sure our members are treated fairly and that their rights aren't violated."
Simpson said the union wants to maintain safe workplaces while also defending the rights of its members, adding that frequent rapid testing has been known to be an alternative to keep workplaces safe.
The policy could lead to thousands of union members being placed on leave without pay, she said.
CPAA — whose membership included the two La Crete employees — has formally put Canada Post on notice that it will file grievances for each post office closed because of the implementation.
"We've got members that work in over 3,200 rural communities, and a lot of those communities, they're very isolated," national president Brenda McAuley said.
"And then they're saying to us, 'We've served our customers for the last 18 months, it hasn't been a problem.'"
McAuley said the mandate is a polarizing issue and the union would like to see scientific evidence that shows requiring vaccinations without allowing regular rapid testing is the only way to operate.
A spokesperson for Canada Post said the policy is in line with the federal government's approach.
"This policy was developed following a significant process of consultation and discussion with our bargaining agents," Valérie Chartrand said in an emailed statement.
The corporation follows the guidance of the Public Health Agency of Canada, she said, that advises vaccinations as the most effective tool when combined with other safety measures to keep employees and communities safe.
Hena Singh, an employment lawyer and workplace investigator out of Toronto, said she is not surprised by the union's opposition.
"They're trying to represent all of the people that are unionized."
Singh said the corporation has strong legal precedent to defend its policy, adding that she would be surprised if an arbitrator were to rule against it.
"That arbitrator would be going against … what the government has encouraged.
"That would be a bold move."