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05.28.19

Bell Uses Hardball Tactics to Weaken Local 161 Members' Rights

By Dee Gillies

In a tactic TEAM/IFPTE Local 161 has seen at every round of bargaining since 2007, Bell MTS (Bell) once again flounced away from the table, arbitrarily cancelled all further scheduled negotiating dates, erroneously asserted that bargaining has reached an impasse, and brought in a Federal Conciliator, starting the countdown clock towards a strike or lockout.

Bell has also served notice again, that: “should the parties not reach a revised collective agreement through the conciliation process, the Company shall terminate the current collective agreement in 90 days (August 4, 2019) and may unilaterally change the terms and conditions of your members' employment.”

As the parties had not even started to discuss monetary items, and all significant areas of negotiation have not been canvassed, moving to conciliation was premature.

Bell is seeking significant concessions from TEAM/Local 161 members, changing long-held and hard-won benefits and seriously gutting the Collective Agreement.

The Company wishes to reduce all overtime to time and a half, remove all shift differentials, reduce Personal Leave days, reduce working/paid hours for some members, block inclusion of new Maternity Leave provisions from the Collective Agreement, and weaken rights to sick pay by having a third party (Manulife) decide if a member is ill enough to receive sick pay, despite them having a doctor’s note.
Bell also proposes deleting the right to bank vacation and vacation overtime credits, the pay out of which are pensionable.

When Bell acquired MTS in March 2017, it assured its shareholders and Manitobans that Winnipeg would be Bell’s Western Canadian headquarters, yet as far as TEAM knows, not one of its members is providing service to other areas of Canada. It appears that Bell is deliberately denying Local 161 members the opportunity to take on national roles, while at the same time working hard to reduce the size of the Local's unionized workforce. In the last two years, jobs in Local 161’s bargaining unit have been slashed from over 900 to 700, with further reductions planned.

Bell calling in the conciliator so early in the process, threatening to terminate the Collective Agreement and change members’ working conditions unilaterally, is a tactic, and while employers who do this may say it is merely to speed up the process, it can be argued that it is a useful tactic for employers intent on union busting and driving down pay and benefits.

Local 161 appreciates the support of the International and is looking forward to the Canadian Locals and Secretary-Treasurer Biggs visit in June.

Local 161’s latest negotiations update to members is available here.

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