Forty-three hundred unionized workers at Aliant brought a strike with their employer to an end Thursday, accepting an offer that will provide increased job security and restrictions on the contracting out of work.
the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP) Local 506 and Atlantic Communication and Technical Workers Union walked off the job April 23 over issues that also included pension, health care and work hours.
Talks between the union and the carrier broke down in part because Aliant wanted unrestricted use of contracting, while the union demanded it be completely prohibited, fearing layoffs. Under the terms of the agreement, which was ratified by 76 per cent of the employees, Aliant would have to provide 120 days’ notice for any workplace change or reduction. Those notices will be assessed by a workplace change committee composed of equal numbers of employees and company executives and minimize adverse impacts of changes.
“”The fight is over,”” said CEP spokesman Max Michaud. “”That negotiation committee, they went through hell. They were never home. It was the same on the other side of the table.””
Aliant wanted to move from a traditional health-care plan to a flex plan that downloads some of the cost to the employees. The flex plan is in the new contract, but Aliant has committed to maintaining the benefits included in it over the course of an employee’s life. Although the union didn’t get everything it wanted, Michaud called the contract the best in the telecommunications industry.
“”You can’t compare it with Bell Canada in Ontario and Quebec,”” he said. “”And if you look at Telus in B.C., they’ve been in negotiations for four years and they lost maybe 10,000 jobs and they still don’t have a contract . . .a contract like the one we have right now would be accepted in B.C. 100 per cent. I’d bet my last dollar on that.””
The CEP also wanted a better formula for employees to contribute to their pension plan, but Michaud said the union made some gains.
“”(Aliant) never did want to put the pension plan in the contract,”” he said. “”Now we’ve made some major improvements in the pension plan, and it is in the contract. To make a move like that is a big move.””
Aliant spokeswoman Brenda Reid said participation from the company’s executive team and the director general of Mediation Services from the federal government was a big help in turning the corner on the negotiations.
“”I think the spirit of cooperation that everyone brought to the table this time around would be directly linked to the success that they have been able to achieve.””
Aliant made headlines of a different kind during the strike in June when vandalism to its network that left thousands without phone and Internet service in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia. The problem was soon fixed, but those responsible have not been caught.
“”In terms of the acts of sabotage, we could do all kinds of network management — which we do every minute of every day — but you’re not going to stop someone who’s bent and determined to harming the network.””
Michaud said the incident put the union on the defensive.
“”Who else could get a key to your house besides a service man from of Bell Canada or Aliant?”” he said. “”You trust those people. That’s what was bothering me when there were things coming out about sabotage and things like that. Those people are not criminals.””
Aliant dealt with the five-month strike by putting senior staff back on the front lines running its network and dealing with customer service issues. Those employees will be grateful to return to their old roles, she said.
“”The majority of our customers were not impacted by the labour disruption,”” she said. “”That we attribute to a robust network and the fact that it’s exceedingly reliable.””
Michaud wasn’t so sure. “”There’s no doubt that there’s customers who are not happy,”” he said. “”We lost some customers too, especially in Halifax . . . everybody’s going to have to work together and get those customers back. They cannot afford to lose customers and still have the same number of employees.””
The CEP said the striking employees are due to return to work Sept. 20.