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Bob Linsdell Retires from TEAM/IFPTE Local 161

By Dee Gillies

On August 7, TEAM IFPTE Local 161 Executive Director Bob Linsdell retired. As the IFPTE International Representative for Western Canada I worked closely with Bob until my own retirement and consider him to be a friend and a favourite sparring partner. I have found him to be thoughtful and analytical with a wry sense of humour, a patient soul very slow to anger, yet always ready to fight to uphold principle.

I know Bob has been integral to the success of TEAM. During his tenure he has set several “firsts” including guiding the change of TEAM from Association to Union, building TEAM's links with the broader labour community, winning a multi million dollar lawsuit to recover pension owed to members, and securing the first ever strike mandate in the history of TEAM. Bob can also take pride in encouraging gender, age and cultural diversity on the Board and in the office - the days of the TEAM staff and Board being old gray-haired men are long gone.

Bob came to Canada from the U.K. in 1997 and began work that year as a manager at Manitoba Telecom Services (MTS). He had never been in a union before, but understood that the Collective Agreement laid out the terms and conditions of employment and should be followed. He soon gained a reputation among his colleagues as a person not afraid to confront senior management when necessary. His coworkers “volunteered” him as their union representative, a role that Bob excelled at. He joined the TEAM Board 2002, and was instrumental in TEAM joining the IFPTE in 2003. In 2006 he became TEAM's Assistant Business Manager and then Executive Director in 2008.

During tense contract negotiations in 2006/2007, Bob and other leaders in TEAM recognized that for TEAM to succeed it needed to increase its strength dealing with the employer by engaging the membership to actively participate in the Union. As the IFPTE Rep, I worked closely with Bob as he oversaw an internal organizing campaign to increase communication and develop a member engagement strategy that included leadership training, a young members' initiative, financial planning workshops for retirement, and member involvement in non-union activities to raise the profile and relevance of TEAM to the membership.

Bob was the moderating and cohesive force during the 17-year pension lawsuit that went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. He not only convinced the TEAM Board to take the case the Supreme Court but kept the other unions and retiree groups onside. The lawsuit arose from the privatization of Manitoba Telecom Services (MTS) when plan member pension funds were transferred from the Manitoba Government's plan to the new MTS plan. Plan members contributed $43 million more than the employer, resulting in an Initial Surplus which plan members believed would be used to improve plan benefits and not to reduce MTS's costs of, or contributions to the pension plan. The Supreme Court agreed that the surplus did belong to the members and awarded the initial surplus, plus interest and costs to the Unions. Distributing the $140 million award was not a simple matter. Following the advice of actuarial experts, Bob united the other union leaders to fairly distribute the award to the thousands of active and retired MTS employees. The absence of dissent or complaints in this distribution is a testament to Bob's leadership and judgment.

Bob leaves an enviable legacy. He advanced an organization that was a loose affiliation of employees to become a union of professionals, representative of its members, respected by the employer and the labour community and willing to stand and fight for its rights.

With retirement, Bob says what he looks forward to is having the freedom to think without interruption. He is also going to make the most of more time with his wife Christine, sons Craig and Kieran and daughter Jen, and his two grandchildren (one more is on the way). Knowing Bob, though, I suspect he will soon be involved in a new endeavor.

All the best, Bob, in your well deserved retirement!

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