Strike clouds gather over Aliant

If Aliant Inc.’s unionized workers go on strike next week, the firm’s business customers might notice a decline in service levels, according to a union representative.

“They only have 1,800, 1,900 managers here in Atlantic Canada,” said Dean MacDonald, business agent and financial secretary of the Atlantic Communication and Technical Workers (ACTW) Union. “They’re not going to take the place of 4,200 highly-skilled people.”

On April 13 the ACTW and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers (CEP) Union of Canada announced that Aliant’s unionized employees had voted 93.4 per cent in favour of a strike, clearly rejecting the telco’s most recent settlement offer.

MacDonald said the unions have been working with Aliant for a collective agreement since 1999, when four former provincial telcos came together under the Aliant brand.

He said the unions and the company had been working with federal conciliators since last fall, but the process broke down in March. Aliant wouldn’t include mention in the settlement of important things like job security and pension promises, MacDonald said.

“We have contract language that’s sacred to us, that we’ve had for 65 years. They want to take us back 30 or 40 years on it. We don’t want to go.”

MacDonald said unless the unions and Aliant can come to an agreement soon, some 4,200 workers would go on strike.

“We’re prepared to go back and sit for a little bit (at the bargaining table), but not for a long time. If by (next) Wednesday or Thursday it doesn’t look like we’re going anywhere, that may be it then.”

MacDonald said all of Aliant’s unionized employees, from payroll clerks to customer service reps and the telesales reps who work with businesses, would be on strike.

Brenda Reid, Aliant’s public affairs manager in St. John’s, Nfld., said her company has a contingency plan in place should a strike occur. The company has trained managers to take over in areas such as customer service.

“We have a full contingency plans to serve our business customers. Part of that plan is to notify business customers, those who we haven’t already contacted and those we already have, to let them know how to continue to contact us, what services they can expect, what level of service they can expect.”

“I guess the good news of the day is we’re going back to the table on Monday to continue negotiations,” Reid said.

Industry analysts said strikes usually don’t adversely affect service levels in the short term, but if the strike lingers customers would notice a difference.

“I don’t think it’s anything to panic about, but over a period of time service can deteriorate,” said Elroy Jopling, a Toronto-based analyst at Gartner Inc.

Reid said the company and the unions are working to stave off a strike.

“I think both sides are committed to reaching an agreement without a work stoppage.”

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