A breakdown in contract negotiations has prompted plans by Rogers Communication Inc. to lock out nearly 300 former Shaw technicians on Monday after the union issued a 72-hour notice of workers’ intent to walk off the job.
United Steelworkers union Local 1944 Unit 60, which represents the workers in Vancouver, Richmond, Surrey and Langley, B.C., said it notified Rogers it planned to begin a series of rotating strikes at noon on Monday.
That came after rejecting a deal from the company that the union called “a shameful attack on our members, their families and the communities Rogers serves.”
But Rogers said it will lock the employees out on Monday instead, describing the move as a reluctant step to ensure the company can continue to provide service for its customers without interruption.
" Following the union’s notice of rotating strikes, they declined to further clarify, so we were left with no choice with this uncertainty,” Rogers spokesman Cam Gordon said in a statement.
“Our goal has always been to achieve a negotiated settlement that meets the needs of our employees and our customers, and we’ve presented a fair and balanced proposal that would grow the units and protect jobs. It’s really disappointing the union took this step and is misrepresenting facts.”
The former Shaw technicians, who were absorbed by Rogers when the companies merged earlier this year, support homes and businesses for internet, phone and television services throughout B.C.’s Lower Mainland.
Their concerns largely centre on job security amid accusations the company has been increasing its reliance on contractors to perform their duties.
USW spokesman Jayson Little said Rogers hasn’t moved off its bargaining position of trying to contract out “some of the long-established jurisdictional work” of unionized members and expand the scope of what contractors would be permitted to do.
He said the planned rotating strikes would have minimized the effect any labour action would have on customers, but Rogers’ move to lock workers out will keep them off the job entirely.
“The workers are being forgotten in all these conversations about mergers and acquisitions and competition and things like that,” Little said. “The workers are really the ones that are being disenfranchised here.”
The union has said that recent job losses associated with the merger, meant to reduce overlap following Rogers’ $26-billion takeover of Shaw in April, call into question the company’s commitment to creating 3,000 new jobs in Western Canada over five years.
“They make commitments publicly and then behind the scenes, they pull the rug out from under their employees and our members,” said Little.
“It’s unfortunate because our members were optimistic that this could be a good opportunity to really help Rogers reintroduce themselves to the West.”
The two sides had been at the bargaining table since February as the union’s members worked under the terms of their previous collective agreement that expired on March 23.
Workers voted 99.6 per cent in favour of a strike mandate in September, around two months after entering into a 60-day conciliation process with the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.
Last week, the union asked workers to limit overtime in an attempt to pressure Rogers to move off its position at the bargaining table. But Little said Rogers retaliated by using “scab labour” to fill overtime needs.
Gordon said Rogers “took immediate steps to redeploy employees and contractors,” adding the union’s move made it harder for the company to fix services if customers experienced a service interruption.
“Our customers rely on us to stay connected, including reaching emergency services,” he said Saturday.
“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. This includes redeploying employees and contractors.”
Gordon rejected the characterization that the company is “replacing technicians with contractors” and said Rogers’ latest offer included language “to grow the combined bargaining unit by 15 members and backfill vacated roles with full-time employees, which would provide job security and further reduce the use of contractors.”
Rogers said its practice of using contractors is meant to support seasonal shifts in work and alleviate resource shortages.