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Weather, employer lockout can’t stop picketing SaskTel union members

SaskTel locked out all striking union members since its could not maintain its customer service or networks with intermittent employee walkouts

Changes in the weather and in working conditions could not change the resolve of striking SaskTel employees, even though their situation had shifted as their employer decided to lock them out.

About eight hardy souls walked the picket line on First Avenue N.W. and Ominica Street West on Oct. 8, while a thick snowfall came down around them. With hoods up and gloves on, the individuals continued waving at vehicles and walking past their now locked workplace.

Pam Speir has worked with SaskTel for 39 years, both in Swift Current and Moose Jaw. In that time she has enjoyed working with her customers and her co-workers, many of whom she says are amazing.

This is Speir’s second go-around walking the picket line, she explained. She was working in Swift Current in 1996 when a strike occurred in that community as well.

“It was about three weeks that we were out on the picket line,” she recalled. “It was in April. One thing I remember from that is I didn’t realize how cold April could be.

“And now I’m being reminded how cold and crazy October can be,” she laughed. “But I don’t think we had snow that April.”

Now that she’s back on the picket line, Speir joked that she at least receives plenty of fresh air and decent walks. However, similar to the other Unifor union members, she receives $300 per week in strike pay. Since she lives out of town on a farm, some of the strike money is paying for her gas — and the odd parking ticket.

Speir’s co-worker Alex Meyer was also picketing on Tuesday, with a bright neon yellow jacket making him visible in the mini snowstorm.

Meyer has worked with SaskTel for 22 years and — speaking for himself — thought the Crown corporation was a good company for whom to work. However, he pointed out many jobs had been moved elsewhere over the years from Moose Jaw. This has led to one of SaskTel’s office buildings to sit empty for several years.

“It should be money we should be able to keep in this building,” Meyer said, noting with so many jobs moved to Regina, employees with families have had to commute. “It would be nice to have the people here and leave the money in this community, which Moose Jaw needs really badly.”

Since the strike was only in its fifth day, Meyer thought it was too early to say how he would be affected personally. However, one project he had to put on hold until next year was re-shingling his home. He will also have to find a new contractor to install them.

Meyer added that he was prepared to help any co-worker with money in the short term since he himself was in a good position financially.

In a news release, SaskTel explained that it was locking out its employees who are Unifor union members in the absence of a concluded collective agreement. Company management realized it was unable to provide the necessary level of customer service or maintain the integrity of its networks with unknown and intermittent walkouts by employees.

Unifor had indicated its members would return to work on Oct. 8 but would provide only 24 hours’ notice before going on strike again, the news release continued.

“This creates far too much uncertainty and the corporation needs to ensure we are able to maintain the integrity of our networks and serve customers in a safe and secure manner,” the news release said, noting it takes 48 hours to ensure its systems are reinstated. The released added that SaskTel remains committed to reaching an agreement and will make every effort to minimize the effect of a labour disruption to its customers.