by Deborah Bourque and Geoff Bickerton
On January 1, 2004, 6,600 rural and suburban mail carriers (RSMCs) ended their status self employed entrepreneurs and began a new life as unionized employees of Canada Post and represented by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW).
There were some immediate changes. As of January 1st the RSMC’s were covered under Worker’s compensation and employment insurance, and earned pensionable credits under the Canada Post Corporation pension plan. They became entitled to basic bereavement leave, the right to unpaid parental leaves, paid statutory holidays, paid vacation, protection from unjust dismissal, health and safety protection under provisions of the Canada Labour Code, and protection from harassment in the workplace under the Canadian Human Rights Act.
There was a pay increase for all routes. Workers also gained effective control of their route. The practice of allowing “master contractors” to further sub-contract out routes to other workers ended.
And equally important, these newly designated employees obtained the right to be represented by a trade union under a collective agreement.
Obtaining employee status for rural and suburban mail carriers represented a great victory for the workers and for the Canadian trade union movement. It was a fight that spanned decades and involved thousands of people from a broad spectrum of Canadian society.
It was necessary to overcome many obstacles to first organize the RSMC and then win employee status. Isolation was a serious issue. Altogether the 6,600 workers are spread over 2,377 separate workplaces in all regions. If the geography was not bad enough the law was even worse. Section 13.5 of the Canada Post Corporation Act expressly excluded postal contractors, such as rural and suburban mail carriers, from coverage under the Canada Labour Relations Act. The employer, Canada Post Corporation (CPC) also vehemently opposed the efforts of RSMC’s to organize. The ability to periodically tender the routes to the lowest bidders had provided CPC with a cheap and vulnerable labour force. In larger centres, where RSMCs worked side by side with unionized members of the CUPW, management complicate organizing by tendering dozens of routes to single master contractors who then hired RSMCs as employees instead of contractors. As employees of master contractors these workers had the right to unionize but the fact that their employment was dependent on CPC renewing the contracts with the master contractors meant that Canada Post continued to call the shots.
Ultimately the RSMCs, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, and their many allies were successful in overcoming these obstacles. It took over two decades, including eight years of dedicated and uninterrupted mobilization. It required millions of dollars. It depended on the selfless dedication of hundreds of RSMC activists. It required a combination of unorthodox tactics and a strategy that recognized that a traditional certification campaign could not be a substitute for a lengthy campaign of capacity building among the membership and with its political allies. This paper will examine the major features of the campaign to organize the rural and suburban mail carriers.
The Work of RSMCs
Rural and suburban mail carriers have been an integral part of Canada Post’s delivery network since the postal service was first established. The work of RSMC’s is very similar to that of motorized letter carriers. The normal workday consists of several hours of sorting and preparing mail and several hours of delivery. The number and density of delivery points determine the mix of inside and delivery work. Although the basic components of the work may resemble that of their urban colleagues the rules and conditions of employment are vastly different.
RSMC routes are not standardized with respect to work content. The average route is designated as requiring 6 hours per day. Approximately 12% of routes are assessed at greater than 8 hours per day and 10 per cent have less than 2.5 daily hours. RSMCs are expected to provide their own vehicles and are provided a mileage allowance. Prior to January 1, 2004 the average annual wage of RSMCs was $23,929.50 based on a 6 hour day. From their pay RSMCs had to provide for relief coverage during any time that they might be absent due to illness, parental responsibilities, bereavement leave or vacation. Not surprisingly few RSMC’s ever took vacation leave. They were not covered by any labour legislation, workers compensation or employment insurance. Routes were typically put up for tender every five years. Often RSMC’s would be required to deliver the notice of tender of their own routes to prospective bidders.
The majority of RSMC’s work in facilities in which there are three or less workers in their classification. Fifty-seven percent of the RSMCs worked out of 2,073 small rural post offices where the Canadian Postmasters and Assistants Association (CPAA) represent employees with the remainder working from 456 larger offices where operational employees are represented by CUPW.
The average age is 46 and 71% are women.
Decades of Struggle
The modern struggle for employee status for RSMC’s began in 1980 during the consultations between the postal unions and the federal government over the terms of the Canada Post Corporation Act. The legislation was being drafted to convert the Post Office Department into a separate Crown Corporation under the Canada Labour Code.
Under the terms of the Post Office Act the maximum ceiling for postal contracts was $10,000.00. Anything above that required tendering and the RSMC risked losing their route to a lower bidder. This served as a strong incentive to keep the routes under $10,000.00. However the $10,000.00 threshold had been established in 1956 and no longer represented adequate compensation for the vast majority of routes. With the spiraling price inflation of the 1970’s many RSMC were forced to choose between gradual yet stead impoverishment or the risk of losing their route if it was placed to tender.
The unions’ argument for employee status was simple. There was no need to maintain contractor status for employees who did essentially the same work as urban delivery personnel. Since all RSMCs worked out of offices where there were existing supervisory and administrative capacities there was no justification to keep these workers as contractors. Since the post office was being placed under the jurisdiction of the Canada Labour Code it was only logical to apply the broader definition of employee to the RSMCs.
The post office’s argument for maintaining the RSMCs as contractors boiled down to money. Postmaster General Andre Ouellet argued that the costs of rural delivery would double or even triple if RSMCs were to obtain employee status. This would jeopardize the financial health of the new Crown Corporation as it struggled to reduce its current annual deficit of several hundreds of millions of dollars. Ouellet also argued that the vast majority of RSMCs were part-time and they would press for full time hours if they were unionized.
Instead of employee status the government offered to remove the requirement that contracts above $10,000.00 had to be tendered. This would permit the vast majority of RSMCs to significantly raise their contract without risking losing their jobs.
In the end the government’s parliamentary majority won the day. RSMC’s were denied employee status Clause 13(5) of the Canada Post Corporation Act specifically exempts mail contractors from the provisions of the Canada Labour Code.
The elimination of the $10,000.00 cap on tenders did nothing to address many of the longstanding problems experienced by RSMCs. Wages were still much too low. Difficulties finding relief staff stopped workers from taking vacations and sick leave. Favouritism and discrimination was rampant. These and other problems led Sue Eybel, a rural route mail courier, to send out 100 letters to other rural route couriers in the Hamilton area asking if they were interested in working together to address their common problems. This initiative led to the formation of the Association of Rural Route Mail Couriers.
Also in 1985 the Report of the Review Committee on the Mandate and Productivity of Canada Post Corporation recommended the consolidation of the bargaining units at Canada Post. The following year CPC applied to the Canada Labour Relations Board (CLRB) for a review of the bargaining units.
The prospect of a bargaining unit review gave new energy to the organizing drive of RSMCs into the Association of Rural Route Mail Couriers. In February 1986 the Association of Rural Route Mail Couriers organized a Valentine’s Day demonstration on Parliament Hill, to publicize their demands to be recognized as a union.
On May 2, 1986 the Association of Rural Route Mail Couriers applied for standing at the Labour Board hearings. On October 7,1986 their application was granted over the opposition of Canada Post Corporation.
In January 1987 the CLRB held hearings to determine if RSMC’s were employees within the meaning of the Canada Labour Code and if section 13 (5) of the Canada Post Corporation Act could negate such a finding. During the course of the hearings Canada Post Corporation announced that it was breaking the commitment made in 1981 and would open all RSMC contracts for bidding as they came open. In February, 1997, the Canadian Labour Congress issued a separate CLC Charter for the Rural Route Mail Couriers, Local 1801. Sue Eybel becomes president. By December 1987, Local 1801 had 2,600 members.
The decision of the CLRB was rendered on April 29, 1987 and was a complete victory for the workers. The CLRB ruled that the RSMCs were economically dependent upon CPC and that CPC directed their work in the same manner as it did the employees. The CLRB ruled that RSMC’s were employees under the Canada Labour Code and that the provisions of the Canada Post Corporation Act did not apply.
The RSMC’s celebration did not last long. Canada Post Corporation appealed the ruling to the Federal Court and won. In may 1988 the court ruled that the CLRB had exceeded its jurisdiction and that Section 13(5) of the Canada Post Act applied and prohibited RSMCs from being recognized as employees under the Canada Labour Code. The unions appealed to the Supreme Court but lost.
This period also witnessed another major attack on rural postal services by Canada Post. On November 5,1986 Canada Post tabled its Five-Year Plan in the House of Commons. Under this plan all rural post offices were to be closed and/or privatized over the next decade. This decision to contract out retail services led to a seven year battle with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers and the labour movement.. Also in December 1986, a grassroots activist group called “Rural Dignity” was formed with a mandate to fight for rural postal service.
Having lost the legal battle the CLC Local 1801effectively stopped functioning on an ongoing basis. However the struggle of the RSMC’s did not die. In December 1990, Member of Parliament, Bob Speller introduced a Private Member’s Bill calling for the repeal of Section 13.5 of the Canada Post Corporation Act “to eliminate discrimination against rural route couriers”.The Bill did not pass.
1995 The Beginning of the Beginning: Building the Organization
In 1995 the CUPW initiated a new phase in the struggle for employee status for RSMCs. Many significant changers had occurred between the defeat in 1988 and 1995.
In 1989 all of the operational urban bargaining units were placed under the jurisdiction of the CUPW. In 1989 Canada Post also posted a profit for the first time since the creation of the Crown Corporation. The Post Office had gone from losing almost $800 million per year in 1978 to being financially self-sustaining in 1989, thereby achieving one of the major objectives that had been placed on the Crown Corporation in 1981. In 1993 the Federal Conservatives were defeated and the new Liberal government moved fast to honour its promise to stop the privatization of retail services. This paved the way for the CUPW and CPC to negotiate a collective agreement in late 1994 without recourse to strike action. In this agreement CPC agreed to voluntary recognition of 10,000 admail delivery workers who had existed as a separate non-union group delivering undressed admail primarily on weekends. The new collective agreement, together with the end of raiding by the former leadership of the Letter Carriers Union of Canada, gave the CUPW the breathing room required to look outward to organizing new units. In terms of strategic significance to the urban workers there was no group more important than the rural and suburban mail carriers. RSMCs did essentially the same work as many motorized letter carriers and the geography covered by RSMCs was the greatest growth area concerning new delivery points of call for CPC.
In the summer of 1995 the CUPW leadership approached Sue Eybel, the leader of the former association, and obtained a membership list. The Union sent out a letter to the RSMCs outlining its reasons for supporting employee status and unionization for RSMCs and asking if the workers were interested. The response was very positive. In February, 1996 CUPW submitted a brief to the Canada Post Mandate Review chaired by George Radians, detailing the history of the struggle of the RSMCs to obtain employee status and recommending, among other things, that the Canada Post Corporation Act be amended to permit rural route mail couriers to organize into unions and exercise collective bargaining rights. Sue Eybel also made a very strong submission concerning the deplorable situation of many of the RSMCs due to the denial of the rights and the tendering of their routes. The final report of the Mandate Review ignored the issue. He did recommend that CPC exit from the unaddressed admail delivery. The government followed this recommendation resulting in the layoff of 10,000 workers.
In 1995 the CUPW believed that there was several possibilities by which RSMCs might obtain collective bargaining rights.
- The union could negotiate with CPC to contract in this work and include these workers in the master collective agreement either in the letter carrier classification or another separate classification
- The union could negotiate voluntary recognition with CPC in a separate agreement.
- Parliament might be convinced to change the legislation.
- CUPW might be successful in a court challenge to the constitutionality of Section 13(5) of the CPC Act. RSMCs could then organize themselves into a union.
In 1996, the national convention of the CUPW authorized the leadership to organize the RSMCs. In 1997, after consulting with RSMC activists, Cynthia Patterson of Rural Dignity, and Lynn Spinks the CUPW National Executive Board decided that it would not sign up RSMCs directly into CUPW but would instead provide necessary support to enable the RSMCs to create their own institution. CUPW decided to devote a budget of $250,000.00 per year to this project with the understanding that the campaign might take a decade. . The union hoped that its efforts and support would eventually lead to RSMCs joining CUPW but it recognized the possibility the new organization might remain independent or eventually join another union such as the Canadian Postmasters and Assistants Association (CPAA).
The decision to create a separate organization was contentious within CUPW. In some areas it was believed that the RSMCs were ready and willing to join CUPW directly as members. However this was not the majority view.
In March 1997, CUPW, Sue Eybel and other representatives of the former association organized the founding meeting of the Organization of Rural Route Mail Couriers (ORRMC). The meeting adopted bylaws for the new organization, which was dedicated to fight for rights for rural, and suburban service mail couriers. Although independent of the CUPW the ORRMC was depended on CUPW for financial and logistical support. In 1997 CUPW was also in negotiations with Canada Post Corporation. The union included a proposal to contract in the work of RSMCs in its national program of demands. This demand was not a high priority. The negotiations failed and CUPW was legislated back to work in December 1997. The issues were referred to an arbitrator. CUPW maintained its demand before the arbitrator and made a presentation in the spring of 1999. Eventually the parties decided to return to the bargaining table and negotiate an agreement rather than be subject to the arbitrator’s decision. A tentative agreement was reached on December 18, 1999. It did not include any change with respect to the status of RSMCs.
Following the March 1997 meeting the ORRMC sent out more letters to RSMCs and worked to expand its contacts. In March 1998 the ORRMC held its first annual general meeting. At this meeting an executive was elected comprised of RSMCs and having the CUPW 3rd National Vice-President as an ex-officio member. Alice Be At the meeting Cynthia Patterson, Rural Dignity’s co-coordinator was invited to speak to the group. She was subsequently hired by CUPW as campaign co-coordinator. Following the meeting the ORRMC and CUPW held training sessions for organizers to prepare for a national sign-up campaign.
In the autumn of 1998 joint teams of CUPW and ORRMC activists conducted a national organizing drive. The unions organizing drive was assisted by CBC TV’s “Newsmagazine” which, on Labour Day 1998, aired a 15 minute feature on the injustices faced by rural and suburban service mail couriers. Altogether almost two-thirds of the RSMCs joined the ORRMC. Although the union did not have any legal collective bargaining rights it had the mandate it needed to represent RSMCs with their employer, Canada Post and to struggle against the government for the repeal of the restrictive legislation.
The Hard Way or the Easy Way
Shortly after the sign up campaign Deborah Bourque, CUPW’s 3rd National Vice-President and ex-officio member of the ORRMC executive met with Andre Ouellet to discuss the reasons why Canada Post Corporation should recognize the rights of the RSMCs to collective bargaining. She explained that one way or another CPC would agree sooner or later. She described the plan of activities the ORRMC was discussing including demonstrations, petitions, legal challenges, political lobbying, a broadly based media campaign and the likelihood that this issue would be central to the CUPW’s bargaining when it next did so with the right to strike. She explained to Ouellet that the choice was his. The easy way was to move quickly. Otherwise the ORRMC and the CUPW would have to carry through on their plans. This would be the hard way. But either way RSMCs would obtain bargaining rights.
From its very formation the ORRMC adopted the approach that the best way to overcome the legislation prohibiting unionization was to act like a union in all respects. Pre-figuring the future in its structure and activities would assist RSMCs and CPC to get comfortable with the idea of unionization. It would also permit the RSMCs to develop the organizational base and leadership skills that would be necessary when the legal framework was changed to permit unionization.
The ORRMC had several basic challenges.
- Expand its membership base.
- Improve the working conditions of RSMCs.
- Develop and maintain activism within its membership.
- Build support within the traditional CUPW membership and build alliances with the CPAA.
- Convince parliament to repeal section 13 (5) of the Canada Post Corporation Act.
- Convince Canada Post Corporation to contract-in RSMC work and maintain the existing workers as employees.
To accomplish these ends the ORRMC adopted an activist strategy involving a wide range of tactics. To be successful they recognized that it would be necessary to involve the membership in activities that were compatible with their political culture, gain sustained media attention, and use the bargaining leverage and resources of CUPW.
The next four years were full of activism and development.
On the political front the ORRMC initiated a broadly based petition campaign. With members in virtually every federal riding the circulation of a petition was an excellent means of gaining public awareness of the issues while initiating members into union activities and building organizational and public speaking skills. During the next four years Members of Parliament would introduce over 150 petitions into the House of Commons from all political parties. RSMCs were also encouraged to write letters to their local newspapers. These activities coincided with an organized drive for RSMCs and local CUPW representatives to meet and lobby Members of Parliament in their constituencies and in Ottawa. In the spring of 1999 the ORRMC executive conducted an intensive lobby of MPs in Ottawa. They also met with other unions and many of the CUPW’s community allies. The name and cause of the organization started to gain a political and public profile. It was also forcing CPC to recognize the growing influence of the ORRMC. June and November of 1999 the ORRMC Executive met with André Ouellet, President of Canada Post. Promises were made, but not delivered.
Another round of lobbying occurred in the autumn of 1999 after NDP Member of Parliament Pat Martin introduced a private members bill to repeal section 13(5) of the Canada Post Corporation Act. The Bill received broad support from many members of all political parties despite an active campaign of disinformation by Canada Post Corporation. When it was voted on May 5, 2000, it failed by just four votes. Following the vote, the ORRMC executive met jointly with the Minister Responsible for Canada Post and the President of Canada Post. They committed to make improvements in working conditions but no employee recognition. Ouellet subsequently wrote to the ORRMC saying that he saw “no point” in further meetings.
In 2002 both the Bloc Quebecois and the NDP introduced private members bills to repeal Section 13(5). These bills were not voted, as the issue was resolved in the 2003 CUPW negotiations.
The ORRMC and the CUPW also decided to use the legal means available through the labour side accords of NAFTA to promote the cause of bargaining rights for RSMC’s. In this they were assisted by the National Association of Letter Carriers in the United States who helped to organize a broad coalition of unions from Canada, the United States and Mexico. In December 1998 the ORRMC and 21 unions and social justice groups from Canada, the United States and Mexico filed a complaint in Washington under the North American Free Trade Agreement. The American unions included the National Association of Letter Carriers, the American Postal Workers Union, The Mail Handlers Union, the Communications Workers of America, and the Teamsters Union. Canadian Unions included CUPE, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the CAW, the Steelworkers, and the Communication, Energy and Paperworkers Union. The Mexican postal workers were also involved and made a statement to the press conference in Washington D.C. Both the Mexicans and Americans stressed that RSMCs in Mexico and America were employees and had full bargaining rights.
The complaint, filed under the North American Agreement on Labour Cooperation (NAALC) argued that Section 13(5) of the CPC Act contradicted Canada’s obligations under the NAALC and its International Labour Organization (ILO) commitments.
It argued that, as a signatory to the NAALC, Canada committed to promote, to the maximum extent possible, the labour principles set out in Annex 1 of the NAALC, namely:
- Freedom of association.
- The right to bargain collectively
- Prevention of and compensation for occupational injuries and illnesses
- Elimination of employment discrimination
The U.S. National Administrative Office (NAO) responsible for investigating complaints filed under the NAALC refused to accept the complaint arguing that it did not make the case that section 13(5) was violating Canadian law. The NAO based its decision on information provided by Canada Post Corporation which was not shared with the unions and which contained many factual inaccuracies.
The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) intervened on behalf of the ORRMC and the unions that had filed the complaint. It was agreed that the NAO’s of Canada and the United States would hold a two day public conference in Toronto at the beginning of February 2001 on The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively in Canada and the United States. At this conference there were numerous interventions in support of the RSMC’s rights to bargain including papers from the United Steelworkers of America, the CUPW, and the international trade secretariat Union Network International (UNI).
To assist in its communications the ORRMC launched a video in April 2001 today that offered a glimpse of the everyday lives of its members. Called Basic Rights: the delivery of mail in rural Canada the 20 minute video illustrated the injustices that rural and suburban couriers faced because they were denied the right to collective bargaining. The video won the award for the best public advocacy video for Basic Rights at the Canadian Association of Labour Media’s (CALM) annual conference in 2001.
Throughout the period from 1998 to 2002 the ORRMC organized a series of public events to raise public consciousness of the RSMCs situation and pressure the post office and government into taking action. In early 2000, when CPC launched its postage stamp celebrating rural life the ORRMC was there to launch its own postage stamp protesting the treatment of RSMCs. On March 8, 2001 the all-female executive of the RSMC donned suffragette-style hats and demonstrated by the statue of the “famous five” on parliament hill to draw attention to their fight to win the right to collective bargaining for RSMCs. But the activities went way beyond the executive and a small core of activists. In every region RSMCs were active working with coalitions and other justice seeking groups. RSMC representatives spoke at labour councils, union conventions and municipal councils. The ORRMC made a presentation to the assembly of the Solidarity Network. It took out membership in the National Action Committee (NAC) and joined the annual lobbying on the Hill. RSMCs marched in the Women’s March Against Poverty. They continued to collect names for petitions at malls, in community fairs and at labour movement events.
By 2002 it hade become clear to Canada Post management that the ORRMC and the CUPW were determined to continue the struggle as long as it would take.
Beginning the Bargaining
The ORRMC did not wait to obtain legal collective bargaining rights before it began the bargaining process. In early 2000 the ORRMC executive began drafting a program of demands to be discussed and ratified at the annual general meeting. The 12-point program of demands was presented to CPC representatives in May 2000. It contained a combination of immediate reforms, such as the establishment of an arbitration system to resolve disputes over points of call, special payments and discipline. There were also demands for a 10 per cent across the board increase in all contracts, coverage for health benefits and the establishment of an employer paid RRSP. The ORRMC also demanded an end to the tendering of routes unless there was a vacancy.
The process of determining and ratifying the demands was an important stage in the development of the ORRMC. It laid the foundation for the participation of RSMCs in the CUPW negotiations of 2003.
Although Canada Post did not respond positively to the demands the lines of communications were open and discussions continued. On June 18, 2001, senior representatives of CPC met with CUPW representatives to begin discussions on the cost of the ORRMC proposals. CPC was not yet ready to recognize the ORRMC for the purposes of bargaining. But the process was beginning. The costing discussions continued until the CUPW bargaining began in 2002 and formal talks began.
By 2001 it was clear that the 2002 CUPW negotiations would be pivotal to the struggle for RSMC bargaining rights. CUPW had presented the demand for RSMCs to be contracted-in during the 1997 round of bargaining. Could it avoid the issue in 2002? Could it make the demand without the consent of the ORRMC membership? What would be the implications of making the demand and dropping it as the union had done in 2000?
In 2001 the ORRMC leadership advised the CUPW that it did not think the time was right to sign up RSMCs as members of the CUPW. In early 2002 the ORRMC told CUPW that the integration and cooperation between RSMCs and CUPW members was developed enough to attempt a national sign up campaign.
At the ORRMC’s annual general meeting in March 2002, and the CUPW’s Convention in April of 2002, membership at both conventions voted to conduct a sign up campaign directly into CUPW.
Again ORRMC activists worked side-by-side with traditional CUPW members to be trained and then hit the road as organizers. During August and September 2002, a strong majority of couriers signed up as members of CUPW.
Shortly after the sign up campaign, in October of 2002 the ORRMC Executive met in Ottawa with CUPW and worked out a transitional strategy for the next six months. At the end of the weekend the ORRMC executive unanimously voted to wind down the ORRMC within the month.
In the words of ORRMC President Alice Boudreau, “We realized it was a structure our membership had outgrown and no longer needed. We felt sad, but it was a sadness we accepted as a loss of the familiar, but great anticipation of new growth and expanded movement.”
Employee status for RSMCs was submitted as a proposed demand by every region in the CUPW. The demand was identified as a major priority by the CUPW leadership when it began bargaining in the autumn of 2002. The CUPW also made it clear to the membership that the RSMC would be a major issue. The union identified its major objectives through the publication of four major backgrounders that were distributed to all local executives and shop stewards. The topics of the backgrounders were Justice for RSMCs, wages, health and safety and job security and service expansion.
The 2003 negotiations ended with a negotiated collective agreement. The settlement, reached in July 2003 after 9 months of negotiations involved 66 major changes to the CUPW’s urban operations collective agreement.
However the most significant breakthrough was the conversion of 6,600 rural and suburban mail carriers from contractor status to employee status and covering these employees under a separate collective agreement.
The Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) membership voted to accept both collective agreements negotiated by the union.
Members ratified the Urban Mail Operations agreement by a vote of 65.41%. The Rural and Suburban Mail Carriers (RSMC) ratified their agreement by a vote of 86.79%.
The agreement for Rural and Suburban Mail Carriers (RSMC) was a historic moment for the labour movement. It provided employee status to 6,600 workers with Canada Post. It also guaranteed significant improvements in their wages and benefits over an eight year period. For decades rural and suburban workers delivered mail at poverty wages, while denied the legal right to collective bargaining.
Rural and suburban workers at Canada Post still have far to go before they achieve justice and dignity at the workplace. They now have a union and the legal rights that will assist them as they continue their struggle.