Telus Lockout Losing Traction

Telus, which was formed from combining the old "monopoly" telecoms, Alberta Government Telephone and BC Telephone has been on strike for some time now, and on my drive to work, I pass three of their plants. Actually, the workers were locked out. The issues are mostly "flexibility", as far as Telus is concerned and freedom from worries over off-shoring as far as the union, TWU is concerned.

A couple of weeks ago, The Vancouver Sun, the most news-y local paper, ran a story that there was a tentative agreement. Only the pickets never came down, so I wondered if I had been dreaming. Finally, this week, I find out that the agreement was put to a vote and lost by a really narrow margin. From the Union's website, "Of the 9027 votes cast, 4487 – 49.7% – voted yes and 4540 – 50.3% – voted no."

Late this week, most of the overpasses I drove under on my way to work had Telus workers holding protest banners against Telus' on-going actions. The largest site I drive by was a little emptier than usual, but I knew where some of the strikers were that morning. I had seen them.

I feel for these folks. It's not that long ago they were a crown-corporation monopoly but the communications boom of the 90s happened and now Telus has to deliver, not to Cabinet (two cabinets, actually) but to shareholders. And they don't understand that most of the other workers in the market they serve have never enjoyed the kind of pensions and job security they enjoyed before the 90s -- I've never had them. They're dedicated to their picket line, but this is a fight that Telus can wait them out on, I'm afraid.

On the other hand, a call-in radio comment I heard, from someone who had switched their high-speed internet from Telus to Shaw and was so thankful to be "dealing with a non-Union company" seemed wrong-headed in another direction. The Winnipeg General Strike was only 86 years ago. The need for unions in the coal mines of southwestern Alberta was a hot issue then, too. Since then, unions have often been more interested in gathering more and more power without much concern for the welfare of the worker, but it would be a shame if the protection for the little guys that unions have provided disappeared with the willing and eager acceptance of other little guys.

I can't help comparing this strike with the hockey strike that resulted in no 2004/05 NHL hockey season. At the beginning, the players didn't want to accept a $54 million per team salary cap. The hiatus in play has led to a depression of their market value and they've had to accept a cap of $39 million. At this point, it looks to me like the longer the Telus workers are out, the less value they'll be to their employer. I suspect they need to cut their losses now, settle and get back to work. There're Christmas presents to buy, not to mention meals, clothes, heat and electricity.

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