Last week, the United Steelworkers announced in a media release that technicians and call centre workers across Canada voted in favour of giving the union a strike mandate after negotiations with the employer, Telus, failed to result in a contract.
The previous contract between workers and Telus expired at the end of the year, and the USW bargaining team has been trying to negotiate a new contract since last October.
Last month, the bargaining team sent a message to affected members (which one member sent to me) to let them know that they were briefly suspending bargaining with Telus.
They believe that they had “reached a point in negotiations that we feel it is incumbent upon us to talk directly with you, and to seek from you a clear and decisive strike mandate vote that will show Telus that we are not backing down.”
The bargaining team then held 14 Zoom meetings between 1 October and 5 October to explain to the affected workers the concessions that Telus was “trying to impose” on them and “how unrealistic and extremely out of touch” they were.
In fact, in a PressProgress article published last month, reporter Rumneek Johal claimed that Telus had sent a memorandum of understanding in 2010 to the union representing the workers at the time, “not publicly reference TELUS or TELUS International Inc. in any potentially negative or disparaging manner in any campaign or communication related to any off-shoring”.
Since then, the union has merged with the USW, and USW Local 1944 president Donna Hokiro told Johal that she refuses to renew that memorandum. She also claims that Telus intends to offshore even more jobs, which prompted the Local 1944 to upload this video to YouTube last month.
The union announced last week that of those members who voted regarding a strike mandate, 97% of them voted in favour. Hokiro told The Alberta Worker in a phone conversation that while she couldn’t share what the voter turnout was at the 14 meetings, she did indicate that she was “extremely pleased” with the “exceptional turnout”.
A strike mandate doesn’t mean that the workers will necessarily strike. However, it tells the employer that workers are willing to strike, if it comes down to it. And the bargaining can use that willingness—particularly one so overwhelmingly strong as this mandate—as a leverage in negotiations.
“The company needs to start hearing the union and the members’ message that we are not going to accept another round of concessions, especially when the company is pulling in big profits. Telus needs to remove their concessionary demands and provide our members with the job security and wage increases they deserve,” said Hokiro in the union’s media release last week.
“Today’s strike mandate sends Telus a clear message that its practices of sending good paying jobs overseas and their exploitive reliance on underpaid contractors must stop now,” added Marty Warren, USW National Director for Canada.
Since the most recent collective agreement, Telus has expanded its operations in home security and digital through multiple acquisitions.
For example, in 2018, they announced that they planned to spend $66.5 million to purchase AlarmForce’s assets in Western Canada from Bell.
On the digital health front, the company spent $2.3 billion to purchase LifeWorks, which was preceded by acquisitions of Sprout Wellness Solutions, EQ Care, Akira Health, Nightingale, and ZRX Prescriber.
USW Local 1944 represents around 7,300 Telus workers, about 2,300 of which are in Alberta. Hokiro claimed in our phone conversation that union membership peaked at 20,000+ workers in 2005. However, through acquisitions (such as those listed above) and offshoring, Telus has managed to whittled down the strength of the union among its workers over the last 17 years.
Hokido told The Alberta Worker that the union is focused on fighting for job security, union recognition, surveillance, and compensation.
Yet Telus’s bargaining team expects the union to concede on those areas instead.
And that’s despite the company posting second quarter profits of nearly half a billion dollars, a 45% increase over the previous second quarter. First quarter profits this year were just over $400 million and up 21% compared to last year’s first quarter.