Telecommunications Workers Union
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|Full name||Telecommunications Workers Union|
|Office location||Burnaby, British Columbia|
The Telecommunications Workers Union (TWU) is a trade union in Canada for people working for telephone and cable companies. Although the TWU has members from Shaw Cable in the Vancouver area of British Columbia, Canada, the majority of TWU members are employees of Telus.
Early organization at BC Tel: The IBEW and EEO
Labour organization at BC Tel (at the time called the New Westminster and Burrard Inlet Telephone Company) began when a group of Vancouver linemen and telephone workers met in the fall of 1901 and decided to organize as a branch of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. This branch became chartered as IBEW Local 213 and branches were soon formed among telephone workers in New Westminster and Victoria. The entirely female operator staff joined in 1902 in what was one of the earliest successful efforts to organize women workers in Vancouver. Strike action in this year, supported finally by Vancouver's business community exasperated with the continuing instability of service and stubbornness of the company's negotiating position, succeeded in bringing formal recognition to the union, sick pay and pay increases for the workers and several other benefits. Further strike action was at times employed until the 1920s however internal labour movement disputes following the 1919 General Strike, internal IBEW disputes, and complacency from having already won superior working conditions to other telephone workers all contributed to a sharp decline in union involvement and the eventual decertification in 1927 of those IBEW locals representing workers of the company (which in 1904 had changed its name to BC Telephones).
The company had earlier initiated the creation of the British Columbia Telephone Electric Employees Organization (EEO), a company union typical of the times, which now took the place of the IBEW. The company provided various favours to this association including financial support, and the association was more a way for some workers to demonstrate their leadership abilities to management than any genuine bargaining unit. Nonetheless as economic misery spread during the 1930s even the EEO began to take on a more militant edge and once the provincial Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act was amended in 1943 to disallow overt company interference in a union, the EEO was in a position to quickly become a worker's union. In the spring of 1944 the operators' council and the craft workers directorate of the EEO created the Federation of Telephone Workers of British Columbia (FTW).
The FTW was composed originally of plant and traffic (operator) divisions, each retaining their own governing councils, but soon clerical workers were given their own branch of the new union. The 1944 constitution explicitly stated that the divisions would "remain forever autonomous and be free from interference in conduct of their internal business", a rare configuration referred to both affectionately and critically as the "three-headed monster".
Relations between the FTW and the company were fairly positive through the late 1940s and 1950s, aided by excellent business conditions and massive growth. However, rapid technological change, and internal debates over orientation toward the company and toward potential merger with other unions (culminating in an unsuccessful raid by the Communication Workers of America in 1963) helped lead to very strained relations beginning in the 1960s. In fact, not a single collective agreement was signed without the help of federal government conciliation services from 1959 until 1970. Eventually a strike was waged in 1968-9, the first in 50 years, on the main issue of wages but also on the issue of attempting to change the company's general orientation toward the union from dismissiveness to genuine recognition and respectful negotiation of ongoing issues and grievances. The strike ended after 6 weeks with only limited improvement above the company's final offer, however the strike was widely seen to have brought the fractured union much closer together.
In 1970, a 5 month strike was waged between a portion of the FTW and its employer OK Tel on the issue of creating a joint pension, which concluded with the creation of such a pension program. Following these victories in 1969 and 1970, the mood of the union improved and centralization of organization became less taboo. In 1977 the FTW underwent many centralizing constitutional changes as well as a name change, becoming the Telecommunications Workers Union.
The TWU immediately found itself in a bargaining stalemate. While the union was responding to rapid technological change by trying to contractually improve job security, the company was adamant that it had to be given the ability to contract-out a wide variety of traditionally bargaining unit job titles. Rather than proceed directly to a strike, the TWU instituted a work-to-rule program and engaged in other protest behaviour such as a truck parade of over 400 company trucks around the BC Tel building at 768 Seymour in Vancouver. Later actions escalated to include rotating strikes which sometimes turned into lockouts and by November 24 all TWU members were locked out, approximately 10,000 people. A government conciliator's recommendation helped create an agreement by February whereby any future contracting-out would be decided upon by a joint committee. Any notion that this agreement might herald a new era of cooperation between the TWU and BC Tel was contradicted by the difficulty in arranging return-to-work conditions. The company's demand that each worker sign an individual contract promising no work stoppages until the formal contract ratification, resumption of previous rates of pay in the interim and other demands was only dropped when the entire locked out workforce threatened to return to work one way or another en masse, prompting RCMP pressure on the company to back down.
The 1981 Occupation
Bargaining in 1980 began to follow the same pattern as previous rounds: a breakdown a month or so before the contract expired, and the request for a report from a conciliator, usually made by the union. In 1980 the conciliator Ed Peck's report recommended wage increases, additional time off, improvement's in vacation benefits and other improvements. The union voted for approval of the report but the company did not, and selective strikes soon began in September. By January there was still no contract and the company was sending workers home with long suspensions for reasons varying from allegations of slow work, to wearing buttons supporting the TWU's "Crown Corporation Now" campaign, suspensions the union considered lockout actions.
On February 3 the bargaining impasse and the heavy discipline had reached such a pitch that when 21 maintenance workers in Nanaimo were suspended for "going slow" they began an occupation of their workplace, kicking their managers out of the building. On February 5, a Burnaby shop steward, Lila Wing, was told to go home and change her T-shirt, which portrayed a cartoon dog labelled "TWU" holding a bone labelled "Peck Report" while being throttled by an arm with "BC Tel" on the cuff. When she refused to leave, a situation resulted which led to workers occupying the whole building. By noon virtually the entirety of BC Tel's workplaces were occupied by its workers, with managers given the option to either keep to certain parts of the building or leave. For the next several days TWU members instituted workplace rules and committees and kept the phone system working smoothly without management, including all of operator services and customer assistance. The occupation, while unprecedented in its magnitude, was widely sympathized with as a manifestation of frustration at the perennial breakdown of the collective bargaining process with BC Tel. Nonetheless, court orders were obtained to end the occupation, which came to a close peacefully after 5 days.
A tentative agreement was reached in early March which conformed closely to the Peck report, however, allegations that the company had fired 24 employees for strike related activities interfered with workers returning to their jobs and led the BC Federation of Labour to become involved. The BC Fed ordered that the workers be reinstated or else a series of one day general strikes would commence lest victimization be seen as tolerable and weaken the position of all workplace union leaders. Only one such general strike occurred, in Nanaimo on March 6, when the entire unionized workforce of the city refused to work, essentially shutting the city down. A week later an agreement was reached where the 24 fired workers would have their cases heard by expedited arbitration, while collecting their wages in the meantime. All fired workers were reinstated.
Telus 2000-2005 labour dispute
The union's labour dispute with Canadian telecommunications firm Telus began after their previous contract negotiated with Telus' predecessor BCTel before the two merged expired at the end of 2000. On April 12, 2005, Telus made its last offer to the TWU, and on July 12, Telus informed the TWU of its intention to bring an end to the dispute by unilaterally implementing its April offer to employees in Alberta and British Columbia, effective on July 22. The TWU was locked out on July 21.
The TWU was concerned with outsourcing and contracting out; Telus was insistent that it needed a flexible contract. Per Telus spokesperson Jim Johannsson "at the end of the work stoppage we fully intend to bring back those calls here and do them inhouse here in Alberta and BC." At the end of the lockout Telus did not give a press release that they had lived up to their commitment of bringing the jobs back to Alberta BC. Shortly after the dispute began, Telus blocked customers from accessing Voices for Change, a TWU-friendly website which had posted photographs of employees crossing picket lines, claiming concerns about employee safety. The blocking prompted accusations of censorship and collateral filtering of 766 additional unrelated websites from union supporters; soon thereafter, the company obtained a court injunction against the publication of the photographs, which were removed, and access to the site was restored on July 28.
On August 31, 2005, a security incident occurred outside Telus' store at Metropolis at Metrotown, when a package with a number of wires sticking out of it was left outside the store. The entire complex was evacuated while the bomb squad investigated and found the package to be harmless.
In early September 2005, an automobile accident knocked out phone service to about 70 Telus customers on Gabriola Island, one of whom required a direct 9-1-1 line due to a medical condition. A standoff ensued when picketing TWU members refused to allow a specialized Telus repair truck onto the island, with Telus accusing the TWU of endangering the lives of its customers. The situation was resolved the following week when Telus crews were flown to the island instead via helicopter; the crews, however, were only able to make rudimentary repairs to the facilities. (The temporary repairs resulted in telephone wires being left on the ground, as workers were unable to attach them back on the poles.)
On September 7, an anthrax scare occurred at Telus' main office building in Burnaby, when an envelope containing white powder was left on the sixteenth floor. The ventilation system was turned off and the management staff inside were quarantined before officials found the substance to be a harmless bodybuilding product. Police said they believed the incident to be connected to the labour dispute; the union, however, maintained that not only had its BC members not crossed any picket lines and hence could not have been behind the scare (the building had been behind pickets for the length of the dispute), but that Telus had disabled all security passes of picketing members. An investigation by the police failed to produce any charges.
A spike in vandalism of phone lines was also reported, particularly in the Vancouver area; a number of areas there reported having phone or data lines cut. Telus originally placed responsibility for the line cuts on the TWU; the union, in turn, blamed the problem on criminals seeking high-grade copper contained within telecommunication cables, which often fetches a high price on the black market. Telus was forced to make repairs for such line cuts a number one priority, as customers without phone service could not call 9-1-1. A number of arrests were made in connection with the vandalism, none of the suspects being Telus employees. Similar line cuts occurred after the dispute was settled.
Accufax Investigations International (AFI), a security company specializing in labour disputes, was hired by Telus to watch over its buildings and managers. AFI has been accused of engaging in strikebreaking in the past, and a number of incidents involving picketers scuffling with AFI guards were reported, including one well-publicized incident in which a picketer and a security guard became involved in a scuffle after the picketer put his hand in front of a videocamera the guard was operating. Security guards videotaped picketers in an attempt to enforce a number of injunctions aimed at keeping the peace around picket sites; the union, however, in several instances, accused security of attempting to instigate fights and that the videotaping was intended as an intimidation tactic.
On September 26, talks resumed between the company and the union, resulting in a tentative agreement on October 10. It is believed that a secret deal between Darren Entwistle CEO of Telus and Bruce Bell of the TWU and Facilitated by Buzz Hargrove to end the lock out . On October 30, union membership voted against ratification, with 50.3% of voting members voting against the contract. A second tentative agreement was reached with a mail-out ballot, and on November 18, 2005, the contract was ratified with 64.1% support, ending the dispute.The TWU was to Mail out Ballots to all members for the second vote using Canada post express post.
Fining of Union Members
The TWU continues to use member funds to pursue civil litigation against union members who crossed the picket line during the 2005 labour dispute. Despite losing both their original case and the consequent appeal, the Union continues to assert that it has the right to levy the fines against union members.
The TWU was in turmoil as President Bruce Bell fought internally to hold his position. Despite the finding by John Shields, the Ombudsperson appointed by the Canadian Labour Congress, to keep Bruce Bell as President, the TWU decided to challenge Mr. Shields decision in the Supreme Court of British Columbia. On December 8, 2006, the Honourable Mr. Justice Groves released his oral decision which effectively removed Bruce Bell as the President of the TWU and also severely criticized the processes used by the Canadian Labour Congress. The TWU Convention elected George Doubt as President in March, 2007. Currently, TWU members are considering a merger with the United Steelworkers. This merger has since failed as the membership did not vote in favor of allowing Executive Council to enter negotiations with the United Steelworkers.
- Bernard (1982), p. 18.
- Bernard (1982), p. 27.
- Bernard (1982), pp. 71, 11.
- Bernard (1982), p. 93.
- Bernard (1982), p. 127.
- Bernard (1982), p. 140.
- Bernard (1982), p. 151.
- Bernard (1982), p. 183.
- Bernard (1982), p. 190.
- Bernard (1982), p. 197.
- Bernard (1982), pp. 205–206.
- Bernard (1982), p. 207.
- Bernard (1982), p. 208.
- Bernard (1982), p. 220.
- Bernard (1982), p. 222.
- 2007 Final Results of the Elections
- Bernard, Elaine (1982). The Long Distance Feeling: A History of the Telecommunications Workers Union. Vancouver: New Star Books. ISBN 978-0-919573-02-4.