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Former Shaw techs approve B.C. strike action against Rogers

Workers based in Vancouver, Richmond, Surrey and Langley concerned about job security
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Rogers and Shaw applications are pictured on a cellphone in Ottawa on Monday, May 9, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Nearly 300 former Shaw technicians absorbed by Rogers Communications Inc. during the companies’ merger have overwhelmingly voted to strike amid concerns over job security following recent layoffs and voluntary departures.

The union representing the workers, who are based in Vancouver, Richmond, Surrey and Langley, B.C., said those job losses call into question Rogers’ commitment to create 3,000 new jobs in Western Canada over five years — a federally mandated condition of the $26-billion takeover.

United Steelworkers union (USW) spokesman Jayson Little said the bargaining unit has seen declining membership over the past five years, which he blamed on the company increasing its reliance on contractors.

“It’s not like the work has disappeared,” he said. “They’ve just started to rely more and more on contractors to do that work.”

The members of USW Local 1944 Unit 60 are primarily technicians that support homes and businesses for internet, phone and television services throughout B.C.’s Lower Mainland.

After receiving a 99.6 per cent strike mandate in last Friday’s vote, Little said those workers will be in position to walk off the job in late October if an agreement has not yet been reached. About 85 per cent of the bargaining unit’s membership participated in the vote.

The two sides have been at the bargaining table since February as the union’s members work under the terms of their previous collective agreement that expired on March 23.

“We are working toward the goal of reaching an agreement,” said Rogers spokesman Cam Gordon in a statement.

“In the meantime, we remain focused on our continued investments in B.C. that will help us best serve our customers. This includes creating over a thousand new jobs over the next few years as our business continues to grow.”

Little said the union and Rogers reached an impasse around two months ago, when they entered a 60-day conciliation process with the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.

“We’re not even at the financial component yet,” he said.

“They’re actually trying to erode very clear cut jurisdictional language as it applies to who goes out to people’s homes and businesses if there’s a problem.”

The union called on federal Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne to hold Rogers accountable as it accused the company of trying to break the conditions set by Ottawa when it approved the Rogers-Shaw merger just days before its April closure.

As part of those conditions, Rogers must create 3,000 new jobs in Western Canada over five years and maintain them for at least a decade.

In July, the company said it had hired more than 2,000 employees since the merger.

But during that same month, Rogers also began offering voluntary departure packages and confirmed an unspecified number of employees were laid off as it integrated with Shaw and worked to eliminate duplication.

Those eligible for the voluntary packages included “most corporate and line of business employees” up to the senior director level of the company. Most employees in customer-facing jobs, such as specialized roles in IT, along with technicians, customer service and technical support agents, were ineligible, the company said at the time.

According to Rogers, its practice of using contractors is meant to support seasonal shifts in work and alleviate resource shortages.

It said the number of employees who are members of the USW bargaining unit has declined from 410 to 287 since 2018. Rogers attributed the majority of the reductions to natural attrition, such as voluntary departures during the COVID-19 pandemic, rather than layoffs.

But Little said if the company gets what it wants at the bargaining table, that could pave the way for it to shed technicians even as it works to hire other customer-facing employees to meet Ottawa’s conditions.

“I know there’s some redundancies, I can appreciate that. But the commitment was to add 3,000 jobs, not erode 3,000 jobs and then just keep bringing them back in some fashion,” said Little.

“If they’re able to achieve the language that they’re seeking at the table, they would be even at a further loss.”

READ ALSO: Ottawa gives final approval for Rogers $26B purchase of Shaw