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Canadian companies feel sting of postal-worker strike

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After a week without mail, Canadians across the country are starting to feel the impact of a nationwide postal strike.

The latest issue of TV Guide, Canada's largest-circulation magazine, has not been delivered. Catalog companies have not shipped pre-Christmas orders. Charities have watched the peak days of their fund-raising season slip by without checks coming in.On the other hand, Federal Express and other private delivery services are enjoying a surge in business. Utility companies are still collecting their monthly payments. And U.S. post offices along the border have been flooded by Canadians trying to send out their mail while they wait for Canada Post to reach an agreement with its employees to end the strike.

"Revenue-wise, we've had a good 10 percent to 20 percent increase since just before the strike began," said Jennie Johnson, postmaster in Beebe Plain, Vt., which abuts Beebe Plain, Quebec, along Canusa Street right through town.

Johnson said that several Canadian companies in the area who have customers in the United States have brought in mail this week. She said Canadians wander across Canusa Street wondering if they can give her mail for delivery in Canada.

"But currently, I can't accept mail due to the Canada Post strike," she said. Even if a card were going across Canusa Street, she said, she could not take it.

The 45,000 Canadian postal workers began their strike over wages and work rules last Wednesday after talks with the government-owned Canada Post stalled. Negotiations have resumed, and Monday a federal mediator was appointed.

John R. Gustavson, president of the Canadian Direct Marketing Association, estimated that the strike is costing the 500 companies in his association some $32 million (in U.S. currency) a day in lost sales. He said that hundreds of employees of catalog order offices, telephone call centers and warehouses have already been laid off and that number could rise to more than 4,000 if the strike extends into next week.

Some companies have begun using private couriers, Gustavson said, and Federal Express of Canada reports a significant increase in domestic deliveries.

Many Canadians now pay their electric bills, and others, at banks and automatic teller machines. Although the postal workers have agreed to deliver welfare checks, many people now use electronic banking.

"In the long run," Gustavson said, "it's Canada Post that is going to be damaged by this. Every time there is a strike at Canada Post, businesses and people find different ways of doing things, and after the strike is settled they do not come back."

Charities have been devastated. The Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Fou-n-d-ation is in the middle of its biggest mail fund-raising campaign of the year and has half a million dollars at risk if the strike does not end soon.

Canadian magazines also are being hurt. Many important publishing subsidies disappeared over the last year, and the magazines will be hard pressed to compensate for lost advertisements if issues are not delivered because of the strike.