Mixed reaction from Crown corporations as some striking union members try to return to work

Some employers are allowing striking Unifor members to return to work today, but at least two of the seven Crown corporations will not let that happen.

SaskTel employees won't be allowed back to work

Employees at some Crown corporations will return to work today, while others will be locked out by their employers as the strike by Unifor members continues on Tuesday. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

The strike by roughly 5,000 employees of seven Saskatchewan Crown corporations continued Tuesday.

On Monday, a news release from Unifor said workers intended to resume work to rule activities at SaskTel. SaskTel said later Monday that employees would not be allowed to return to work.

The employer said it could not provide adequate service to customers with employees striking intermittently.

Workers at other Crown corporations, including SaskPower and SaskEnergy, have not received lockout notices. In a news release, the union accused the government of engaging in divide-and-conquer tactics.

"We're going to stay on the picket line in solidarity with SaskTel and to ensure that our own membership is not divided by the employer," said Unifor Local 649 president Ian Davidson, representing workers at SaskEnergy and SaskPower.

SaskPower employees returned to the picket lines, in solidarity with their part-time colleagues and with SaskTel employees who were locked out by the employer, despite being told by SaskPower they could return to work today. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)

The union said it had received a statement saying part-time workers at SaskEnergy and SaskPower would not be allowed back.

SaskPower confirmed in a news release issued on Monday that workers would not be locked out should they decide to return to work today.

"The main change that customers should notice for [Tuesday] is that our call centre will operate from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.," the SaskPower news release said.

Call centres were open between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. last Friday when strike action began, and on Monday.

But in a move of solidarity with employees from Sasktel and with SaskPower's part time employees — who were not invited back to work — Unifor members resumed strike activities outside of the SaskPower offices in Regina.

Dave Burdeniuk, director of government and media relations for SaskEnergy, previously said unionized workers who showed up for work on Tuesday would be put to work. 

As of Monday evening, SaskWater had said employees of that Crown would not be locked out of work. 

Scott Doherty, assistant to the Unifor national president, acknowledged there was some confusion in the strike action on Tuesday as some employees returned to work at SaskWater and the Water Security Agency.

"I can assure you that the water people are going to be off the job again tomorrow," Doherty said.

Doherty said overall, he and members of Unifor feel their strike actions on Monday and Tuesday were successful. 

Employees from seven Crown agencies represented by Unifor walked off the job last week after the union and the provincial government failed to reach an agreement. 

The government proposed a five per cent pay increase over five years.

However the union disputed their offer because there would be no pay increases for the first two years of the contract.

The union said it has asked the government to include a cost-of-living pay increase rather than taking no increase for the first two years of the government's offer. 

A security guard stands outside of the SaskPower offices in downtown Regina, as pickets walk the sidewalks around the building. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)

Provincial negotiators say they are ready to come back to the bargaining table, but the union says it hasn't heard from the province in days.

Yesterday, call centre workers locked arms and tried to prevent managers from entering SaskTel properties. Those actions were decried by the employer.

"SaskTel is also considering applying for an injunction to stop Unifor's illegal labour disruption activities, such as preventing non-union employees from reporting to work," director of external communications Michelle Englot said.

"While Unifor members have the right to strike, non-unionized workers also have the right to get to work."

Doherty said the union would deal with an injunction should one be issued.

With files from Fiona Odlum, Heidi Atter and Alicia Bridges