HALIFAX, Nova Scotia – In towns and cities along Canada’s Atlantic coast, 4,300 telephone workers have been walking the picket line since April 23 to save their jobs and to win livable pensions and a better prescription benefit from their employer, Aliant. Aliant is 53 percent owned by BCE Inc., Canada’s top telecom company.
During a vacation in Nova Scotia in mid-August, this reporter and his family drove through one little town after another where members of the Atlantic Communications and Technical Workers Union (AC&TWU) were walking the picket line. In New Brunswick, the phone workers are represented by the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada. The joint strike is coordinated through the Council of Atlantic Telecommunications Unions.
In the little farm town of Middleton in the midst of the fertile Annapolis Valley, the pickets circled with a hand-lettered banner that read, “AC&TWU: Proud to be union!” Motorists honked in solidarity as they drove by.
We stopped to chat and one of the pickets told us he has worked 30 years as a phone worker and would not be able to live on the $20,000 pension offered by Aliant. “You know the CEO’s of these giant telecommunications corporations walk away with millions when they retire,” he said. “We deserve a pension that gives us a decent life in our senior years.”
Aliant, he said, refuses their workers’ demands for a guarantee that jobs will not be outsourced to Mexico or India where workers are paid meager wages with no benefits. “We are fighting to save our jobs,” he said.
He spotted my “Bush out the door in 2004” button. “We know about Bush, all for the CEOs. In Canada, more than 75 percent of the people oppose Bush’s war in Iraq. We wish you good luck in your election.”
Later we drove up the Atlantic coast to Halifax where we found 20 or more workers picketing the Aliant offices. Dean MacDonald of AC&TWU later told the World by phone that members of his union voted by more than 90 percent to reject Aliant’s offer and to authorize a strike.
“Contracting out is a huge issue,” he said. “We’re trying to keep the economy of Atlantic Canada vibrant. Look at the cod industry. It’s practically gone. The unemployment rate in Newfoundland is 20 percent and here in Nova Scotia, about 11 percent.”
Aliant, he charged, wants to outsource jobs and force the remaining local workforce into part time jobs with no benefits.
He accused Aliant of taking $50 million in wages out of the economy of the maritime provinces in the past year. “They joined with the conglomerate Bell to beat the workers up. … They took the profits and ran. That money is filling the pockets of the CEOS. It’s the result of corporate greed.”
Public support for the strike has been strong throughout the four months despite scattered instances of vandalism to telephone lines and Aliant property. MacDonald flatly rejected the smear campaign that the strikers were responsible.
“Atlantic Canadians are loyal people. Our senior citizens have been among our strongest supporters. They built the labor movement. They understand that this is not about wages. The people of Atlantic Canada want better jobs for their sons and daughters. They know that is what we are fighting for. Aliant won an award for volunteerism, but who were the volunteers? It was the telephone workers, these good, solid, members of their communities.”
The author can be reached at greenerpastures21212@yahoo.com.