When is a pink slip not a pink slip?

I’m going to offer you three headlines. You tell me which one doesn’t belong. All are dated June 13:

“”Union opposes downsizing at Telus”” — from the Telecommunication Workers’ Union (TWU).

“”Telus reaffirms commitment to employees, customers”” — from Telus.

“”Union backs Telus

buyout plan”” — from the Globe and Mail.

Confused? I was. That’s why I called Sid Shniad, the TWU’s research director, who was quoted in the Globe as endorsing a pair of voluntary buyout offers the telecommunications company made to its employees late last week. He directed me to a small clarification on page 2 of Fridays’ Report on Business in the Globe, where the paper acknowledged that the TWU is by no means counselling its members to accept either of the two deals.

Shniad’s explanation for the apparent contradiction gets to the heart of the conflict over this restructuring, or whatever you want to call it. He admitted on record that there will probably be a “”tremendous desire”” on the part of those eligible to take the packages and walk out. That doesn’t mean the union thinks it’s good for the employees left behind, the communities of British Columbia and Alberta who will be affected by it, and, ultimately, Telus itself.

There are two packages on the table. Telus is offering the early retirement buyout to approximately 1,900 employees aged 55 and older who have more than 10 years experience. If they take it, they get a year’s salary plus $500 for each year of service, to a maximum of $15,000. The voluntary departure plan includes 18 months salary, plus $1,000 for each year of service up to a maximum of $20,000. If everyone took Telus up on the offer, it could be saying good-bye to approximately 11,000 people once the expiration date closes Oct. 1.

Sounds generous to me. Shniad says the TWU’s issue is not the nature of that packages themselves but the terms and conditions for what would remain of Telus’s workforce. He also calls into question whether the downsizing needs to happen at all, dismissing the company’s claim that it has no choice given what a statement called, “”the adverse financial impact of recent regulatory decisions.”” This is in reference to the recent CRTC ruling on price caps in the telecommunications sector, a decision that pleased almost no one.

“”If you look at Bell, they put out a statement on their site yesterday and said they weren’t cutting any jobs,”” Shniad says. “”And their EBIDTA (earnings before interest, depreciation, taxation and amoratization) took a much bigger hit than (that of) Telus.””

As someone who has had to grapple with the consequences of downsizing — “”making more with less”” has been included in the skills section on my résumé — I sympathize and understand the TWU’s concerns. It is doing what good unions do in terms of forcing the company to clarify its intentions and strive for the best possible working conditions for its membership.

This approach, however, cannot but appear more humane. Thousands of Nortel employees, for example, were lucky if they walked out with a “”I worked for Nortel and all I got was this lousy T-shirt”” T-shirt.

Telus is giving its employees months to consider an offer that will no doubt appeal to their self-interest at a time when survival is coming before an organization’s common good. It’s possible the strategy will backfire on Telus in the long run. Sometimes downsizing brings efficiency; most of the time it reduces quality. Then again, quality inevitably starts to suffer when the market is this weak.

It used to be so much easier to pick out the bad guys.

sschick@itbusiness.ca

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