Crown workers to stay on strike in solidarity with locked-out SaskTel employees

Crown employees wave to a passing vehicle while walking the picket lines outside the SaskPower offices in the south end of Prince Albert. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

Striking workers at several Saskatchewan Crown corporations have decided to back off plans to return to work in solidarity with locked out SaskTel workers.

In a press release issued late Monday, Unifor, which represents the striking workers, said that the lockout of SaskTel workers triggered a cancellation of the planned return to work at other Crown corporations.

On Oct. 4 at 12:01 a.m., about 5,000 workers at SaskTel, SaskEnergy, SaskPower, SaskWater, DirectWest, SecurTek and the Water Security Agency began a strike action after failing to come to terms with the provincial government on a new contract.

The provincial government offered a five per cent increase over five years. That increase consisted of a two-year wage freeze followed by increases of one and two per cent in the third, fourth and fifth years of the contract.

Some Crown bargaining committees have been at the table for two years or longer. According to Unifor, they were willing to accept lump-sum payments instead of a base wage increase in the first year of the contract.

Unifor contends that wage freezes are not fair in light of a 2.3 per cent increase to MLA pay passed by the SaskParty government this year. The union has proposed three years of two per cent pay hikes along with a lump sum payment for expired years of the contract.

The provincial government has encouraged the union to reconsider the offer the government put on the table.

“There’s an offer on the table of five per cent over five years, a long term offer, and we would ask that these tables come back to the bargaining table,” Premier Scott Moe reportedly said over the weekend during the Saskatchewan Party convention held in Regina.

Moe has since departed for Japan to discuss the trading relationship between Japan and Saskatchewan.

“Just when we thought Scott Moe couldn’t make things worse, he proved us wrong, from Asia no less,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President in a press release. “The provincial government engineered a strike by Crown workers by imposing a wage freeze, now it stands idly by while SaskTel workers are prevented from returning to work.”

After announcing Crown workers would return to work to rule Tuesday with plans to give no more than 24 hours notice if they decided to return to a strike, SaskTel decided to lock its unionized workers out, citing difficulties starting up operations or adjusting work schedules on less than 48 hours notice.

“SaskTel will not be allowing employees who are members of Unifor to return to work in the absence of a concluded collective agreement,” the press release said.

“SaskTel did not make this decision lightly, but management cannot provide the desired level of customer service or maintain the integrity of our networks for the people of Saskatchewan with unknown and intermittent walkouts.”

According to SaskTel, it takes up to 48 hours to mobilize the business back and forth to have processes, systems and access in place. With the union only vowing to give 24 hours notice of a potential strike, “This creates far too much uncertainty and the corporation needs to ensure we are able to maintain the integrity of our networks and serve our customers in a safe and secure manner,” SaskTel said.

SaskTel also seemingly accused the workers of causing disruptions during the work to rule action last week. In a press release, SaskTel said the actions “may have” impacted the ability to televise live events and other live pay-per-view events.

It also appears there were fictitious orders created that may have potentially disrupted service to our customers.

 “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 at the SaskTel Contact Centres,” the Crown corporation wrote.

“While Unifor members have the right to strike, non-unionized workers also have the right to get to work. It is unacceptable that management employees are being prevented from entering their workplace and are reportedly being threatened for attempting to do so.”

SaskTel said it remains committed to reaching an agreement and will make every effort to limit disruptions to customers. Delays may be experienced, they said, as the primary focus will be on maintaining essential services.

Local Unifor leaders seemed unphased.

“Whomever made the decision to lock-out SaskTel workers hasn’t seen the energy I’ve seen on our picket lines,” said Dave Kuntz, Unifor Local 1-S President representing SaskTel workers in areas south of Davidson, according to a press release.

“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,” added  Davidson, Unifor Local 649 President representing workers at SaskEnergy and SaskPower, referring to communication he received earlier today suggesting that part-time workers would not be allowed back.

“Crown workers and our families are united as ever in the campaign for a fair contract, and that doesn’t change today because the government has dropped the ball again,” Davidson added.