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(en) Canada, The Wobbly Dispatch - Telus Workers Defiant by Eugene Plawiuk

Date Thu, 22 Dec 2005 08:57:53 +0200

Despite a second round of sell out bargaining by the TWU leadership in B.C. the
workers on the line in Edmonton have remained defiant, against Telus and against
the sell-out leadership of their union.
"I am strong, stronger now than when we walked out. If this lock out has proven
anything to me, it's where I stand, what I am willing to do to fight for my rights.
And I am willing to stay out for six more weeks or three months, or whatever it takes,"
said a picketer I talked to on the line. Similar comments were heard from the other
defiant workers on the line in front of the Telus Building on Jasper Avenue. "I got
married while on the picket line, bought a new truck, and the only difference from
before the lock out is that now I have more debt."

A second contract was agreed to last
weekend by the TWU bargaining commit-
tee, after the first contract vote was
rejected by 50.03% of the workers. The
scabs got to vote too, of course, but due
to union bureaucracy screw-ups, workers in
Northern Alberta were underrepresented in
the vote in Edmonton, so now the union is
doing a mail-in vote. Screw-ups are still
happening as the picketing workers await
their ballots, which are due today. Votes
not received within the short timeline given will not count. The
workers figure that their union leadership wants the vote to
pass. But the Edmonton workers who have spent the last nine
weeks on the line are as skeptical about this contract as the
previous two -- the last one they rejected, and the original
Telus offer that they rejected preceding the lock out.
"This fight is about contracting out, it's a fight that will
determine the fate of the labour movement in Canada," said
one Telus worker on the line. While the media has reported
that only janitor and maintenance services will be contracted
out under the agreement, the Telus workers in Edmonton,
many who work in customer service, say that their jobs, too,
are under the gun. Telus is already using call centres in Manila
and India to supply customer service, saving millions by manage-
ment estimates and allowing Telus to rack up record profits. "If
this contract goes through that will be the death of Telus
workers in BC. ...Telus has said it will continue to use call
centres, and not hire new staff, they will simply keep us
working, and fill our jobs through contracting out and attrition.
As the baby boomers retire, their jobs will go overseas," said
the picketer. Another concern raised by the workers in
Edmonton is that Manila and India are centres of identity theft.
The call centres abroad have full access to customers' personal
account information. Telus has no direct supervision over the
accounts handled offshore. Media coverage has barely focused
on these very serious security concerns raised by Telus workers.
The workers predict that if the newly proposed contract
passes, it will mean the death of their union and their union
rights. "The agreement does not recognize our right to a
grievance procedure, if we want to grieve we have to take it
to a manager. If we are grieving against that manager we have
to find another one to place the grievance with. So that leaves
the union without any grievance procedure without any
representation for our grievances," the picketer said. Besides
the ability to represent workers through collective bargaining,
the key power workers have through a union is their ability to
grieve violations of the collective agreement, or grieve over
apparent violations of human rights laws etc. The grievance
procedure is the core of labour relations
and labour law: it presumes that natural
justice, as well as common law, applies in
the workplace. To give up the right to
process grievances to management means
that the union effectively is failing to
represent its members and sets it up to be
challenged under labour law for failing in "its
duty to represent." Why any union would
agree to what is essentially a suicide pact
with management is beyond me and
beyond the Telus rank and file.
"I hate to say this but we had it better
under IBEW (International Brotherhood of
Electrical Workers)," says the Telus worker.
"We had a better contract ten years ago
than the one we got five years ago
imposed on us, and the one we are being
offered now." Before Telus bought BC Tel,
its workers were represented by IBEW
which had union representation rights for
workers with Alberta Government Tele-
phones (AGT) -- which was privatized to
create Telus. With the purchase of BC Tel,
the company moved lock, stock and barrel
to Vancouver. There the workers were represented by a local
trades based craft union, the Telecommunications Workers
Union (TWU). This union was the union for BC Tel employees,
and was not a national or international union. With the merger
came a vote on union representation. IBEW, which also is a
business craft based union, had failed to represent the growing
membership of non-trades workers, mainly women, who made
up the majority of operators, call centre, and customer service
workers. As well, IBEW as a quisling business union in Edmonton
had historically identified with management.
In spite of the change of leadership, Telus workers have been
without a contract for five years because TWU was
outmanuvered by Telus Management; they still bargained as if
they were a small union local within BC, instead of a national
bargaining union for the second largest phone company in
Canada. This allowed management to stall TWU in contract
talks, giving it a virtual free hand to make profits while not
increasing costs, that is, workers' wages and benefits.
During the lock-out Telus has saved millions in wages and
benefits; it's been outsourcing more work overseas, paying
scabs record wages (and giving them gifts) and payout over-
time, and paying for private security goons. Despite all that
Telus shares today are the highest they have been for a year.
In the past year Telus shares have risen in price and in each of
the last three quarters Telus has reported record profit taking.
The new proposed contract allows for continued contracting
out via attrition, and it does not grant an amnesty to those
fired during the lock out, many of them militant rank-and-file
leadership. Instead their firings will be ajudicated by a labour
Tribunal under the Canada Labour Act. While there are wage
increases, and recognition of union representation rights for
Telus Mobility workers, the contract itself lasts fives years.
"By then BC Telus will be contracted
out; there will no longer be a BC
Telus. The union will be busted -
that's what they have to under-
stand. That's why no matter the
vote, I will stay and fight. Edmonton
and Calgary will be here, but BC will
be contracted out. That's what this
fight is all about, the fight to stop
contracting out of our work. This is a
fight for the whole labour move-
ment," said the Telus Worker as
fellow workers on the line nodded in
[Editors' Note: This text was
originally published, and is available in
full, at: http://plawiuk.blogspot.com
...Since its writing on November 10,
elements of the situation may have
Edmonton Wobblies show solidarity on the downtown Telus picket line (October)

* [Ed. Note: IWW - Industrial Workers of the World is antiauthoritarian
anticapitalist direct action syndicate.]

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