Things are tense both inside and outside of Telus Corporation after 13,700 employees walked off the job on Thursday, July 21 one day before Telus planned to impose a new contract on its workforce that was rejected by the union in April.
The employees have been without a contract for four and a half years, despite more than 200 meetings between management and union representatives. Most of the employees are now on picket lines outside Telus buildings in Alberta and B.C. Even in Whistler, where Telus maintains a small office on Lorimer Road, a handful of picketers have been taking shifts.
The two sides have not met since Thursdays walkout, except in court on Monday, and are currently waging a battle of words through the media.
According to the Telecommunication Workers Union (TWU), Telus management forced the union to go on strike by attempting to impose their own contract on employees. The union believes that the contract will result in entire departments within Telus being replaced by outside contractors in order to cut costs.
For its part Telus believes the union is misrepresenting the wishes of its employees and the purpose of the contract. They say the contract was necessary to remain competitive with Bell, Rogers and Shaw, which are gaining market share in Western Canada.
Additionally, Telus feels that it has negotiated fairly, pointing to recent rulings from the Canadian Industrial Relations Board and Federal Court of Appeals that found no fault regarding their labour relations practices.
For the most part telephone, Internet and cellular services have been unaffected in B.C. and Alberta, although there has been four cases of phone lines being cut since the start of the strike, in Lake City, Fort Langley, Pritchard and Ladysmith.
According to Telus the vandalism was conducted by a person or persons with the proper tools and some knowledge about phone lines. In the Lake City case, the vandals even removed some of the wire, making it more difficult to repair.
Telus did not directly accuse disgruntled workers of sabotage, acknowledging that vandalism does happen and that wire is often stolen for scrap.
The RCMP are taking the matter seriously, noting that the vandals also cut 911 service as well as phone and Internet lines.
For its part the union has denied that any members are involved in the vandalism, and voiced their support for the RCMP investigation.
But while the lines are up there are some areas where the strike is having an impact.
"Things are going well, we seem to be handling all of our customers requests reasonably well," said Bruce Okabe, vice president of business solutions for Telus. "Over the last five days weve been averaging 91 per cent with business customers that call in getting answered in 20 seconds or less. I should note thats above normal, a bit above whats expected in a normal situation.