Rogers Communications Inc. RCI-B-T is set to lock out about 300 technicians in British Columbia after their union served strike notice on behalf of members who recently transitioned to the Toronto-based telecom from Shaw Communications Inc.
The lockout notice by Rogers will take effect at noon local time on Monday, affecting workers in five municipalities in the Vancouver region. Rogers, which completed its $20-billion takeover of Calgary-based Shaw in April, issued the notice on Friday, shortly after the United Steelworkers union (USW) said it would stage rotating strikes starting on Monday.
After the takeover in the spring, politicians and industry observers worried about potential job cuts, with Rogers expected to seek efficiencies during its integration with Shaw. Based on workers with the most seniority, installers are currently earning $38.25 an hour, and apprentice technicians are making $40.38 an hour. The previous five-year collective agreement under Shaw expired on March 23.
The two sides are not that far apart on wages, but the USW is concerned about the impact of contracting out on job security, said Jayson Little, the union’s staff representative.
“Rogers is trying to erode those jurisdictional boundaries,” he said in an interview Sunday. “This new employer has come into town, and now they’re locking out our employees.”
The USW’s Local 1944, unit 60, covers B.C. workers in Vancouver, Burnaby, Richmond, Surrey and Langley. Their duties include repairs at residences and businesses with cable television, internet and home phone services.
Rogers spokesperson Cam Gordon disagreed that the telecom is proposing to use more contractors.
“The large majority of the work is done by our employees and we’re not replacing technicians with contractors,” he said in a statement.
The arrival of Rogers has been noticeable on downtown Vancouver’s skyline. In June, a prominent office tower saw its Shaw sign on the rooftop replaced by Rogers in large capital letters.
Mr. Gordon said the union’s strike notice forced Rogers’s hand: “We’ve presented a fair and balanced proposal that would grow the units and protect jobs.”
As part of its acquisition of Shaw, Rogers has committed to the federal government that it will create 3,000 jobs over the next five years in Western Canada, including 1,200 jobs in B.C.
“We remain ready and willing to get back to the negotiating table and work on a settlement agreement in good faith,” Mr. Gordon said. “We’ve activated our contingency plans so we can continue to carry out our critical work for our customers and meet their needs without interruption.”
Mr. Little said he questions commitments by Rogers to create jobs in the West: “People who historically make good earnings and have good benefits – they’re trying to reduce those.”
Rogers has yet to prove that it deserves allegiance from technicians who formerly worked under the Shaw banner, Mr. Little said.
“Locking out employees when you know it’s Rogers’s first dance back into town is, I think, going to rub people the wrong way,” he said. “Contractors have been a part of the system for a long time. We’ve just had some clear-cut distinction of what they could do, so that’s the main issue.”
In September, 99.6 per cent of USW members in unit 60 who cast their ballots voted in favour of supporting strike action. On Oct. 27, the union said it imposed a ban on overtime by members of unit 60, with the goal to disrupt scheduling by “introducing complexity to management’s ability to effectively respond” to outages of services.
In a letter of the agreement under the expired contract, Shaw agreed that no contractors will be called for emergency maintenance and service work until first trying to contact employees qualified to do the work.
Mr. Little noted that job security was also an important issue during the two-week strike in July at B.C. ports by the International Longshore & Warehouse Union Canada, which represents 7,400 port workers in the province. A single sentence about job training in the tentative agreement, meant to address the ILWU’s concerns about the contracting out of jobs, finally broke the deadlock between employers and the union.