Saskatchewan

Union for 3,000 SaskTel employees seeks strike mandate

The union representing 3,000 SaskTel employees is asking for a strike mandate from its members.

SaskTel's collective agreement expired in March and talks have broken off

Contract talks between SaskTel and a union representing 3,000 of its workers have broken down. (Neil Cochrane/CBC)

The union representing 3,000 SaskTel employees is asking for a strike mandate from its members.

The Crown telecom corporation's collective agreement expired on March 16, 2019. Talks between both sides concluded on June 21 without an agreement. A conciliator was brought in during the negotiations and declared a cooling-off period from June 22 to July 12.

On Thursday, Unifor Sask Council posted an update for members of the union online.

"We will be asking for a strike mandate from the membership. The logistics and timelines are being determined," the statement from the union's Saskatchewan council said.

"SaskTel is profitable, in excess of $100 million net profit consistently. Crown executives have received pay increases at more than double the rate of workers since 2007."

The two sides have mediation talks scheduled for July 10 and 11.

"The company said as long as we left non-monetary items on the table they were not going to give us a monetary offer," said Chris MacDonald, assistant to the national president for Unifor.

"Ultimately, that led to an impasse."

Contractors a sticking point: Unifor

MacDonald said non-monetary items included use of contractors, mental health support and performance measures for call-centre workers.

"We're going to have to take strike votes now to force the company to put an offer on the table at this point."

Unifor currently has an ad campaign running on radio and billboards advocating for its position. 

"We don't think that it's right that public servants at the top, including the premier, get a 2.3 per cent raise and then you offer one per cent to public servants," MacDonald said, noting the union has yet to receive its monetary offer.

"Frankly it doesn't make any sense."

The 2.3 per cent increase is in reference to cost of living increases for MLAs effective April 1, 2019.

MacDonald said one of the sticking points for workers is the increased use of contractors.

"You have people sitting at home waiting to be called by SaskTel, and contractors are working full-time hours because the contract SaskTel signed with them guarantees certain hours. And so they have a guarantee, but [unionized employees] don't."

SaskTel has experienced other job actions in past years. Strike mandates were obtained in 1986, 1996 and 2016, but only one of those mandates resulted in a strike:

  • In 1986, negotiations resumed and a deal was ratified.
  • In 1996, a three-week strike ended with a deal.
  • In 2016, no job action was taken and a deal was ratified.

SaskTel response

SaskTel provided a comment to CBC by email.

"The union has to receive a strike mandate from their membership and provide the company with 72 hours' notice prior to taking strike action.  It is not unusual for a strike vote to occur during the process," the SaskTel statement said.

"SaskTel remains committed to working through the process with Unifor to finalize a new collective agreement but SaskTel will not comment on details of the bargaining."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Adam Hunter

Journalist

Adam Hunter is the provincial affairs reporter at CBC Saskatchewan, based in Regina. He has been with CBC for more than 14 years. Follow him on Twitter @AHiddyCBC. Contact him: adam.hunter@cbc.ca

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