The contract battle between SaskTel and the union representing its employees continues and a strike vote is being held in cities around the province to help the union decide whether to take job action.
The previous collective agreement expired March 16, 2019. Talks between the sides ended on June 21 without a new deal.
A cooling-off period was scheduled for June 22 to July 12, with mediation talks to take place this Wednesday and Thursday.
The talks were cancelled, according to Chris MacDonald, assistant to the national president for Unifor, which represents about 3,000 SaskTel employees.
"We need to have ten or twelve meetings around the province and we had nothing further to share with our members before those strike votes because the company maintained on Monday they wouldn't provide us with a monetary offer, so we cancelled the dates," he said.
MacDonald said there are also several non-monetary issues such as job security, mental health support, performance measures for call-centre workers and the use of contractors.
On top of that, the union is questioning a 2.3 per cent cost of living raise given to MLAs effective April 1.
"We're not asking for anything more than our membership to be treated with the kind of respect that they've treated themselves with, and I'm speaking about the premier and the MLAs," he said.
The first strike vote was held in Regina on Wednesday. MacDonald said more than 800 people showed up to cast their ballots.
He said a strike would be a last resort.
"Our members don't want to strike and we're doing everything we can to avoid that," he said.
The ballots will be counted July 22, according to MacDonald, then the union will try to continue negotiations with SaskTel.
A schedule of strike vote meetings can be found on Unifor Sask Council's website.
SaskTel said in an emailed statement that strike votes are not uncommon during negotiation processes.
"SaskTel remains committed to working through the process with Unifor to finalize a new collective agreement but SaskTel will not comment on details of the bargaining," it said.
Both sides would need to give 72 hours notice before any job action.
SaskTel has experienced other job action in past years. Strike mandates were obtained in 1986, 1996 and 2016, but only one of those mandates resulted in a strike:
- In 1986, negotiations resumed and a deal was ratified.
- In 1996, a three-week strike ended with a deal.
- In 2016, no job action was taken and a deal was ratified.