|Lake cleanup trumps picket duty for TELUS Picketers
|September 12, 2005
Last month's CN train derailment and oil spill into Wabamun Lake (some 60km west of Edmonton) has created an unexpected
employment bonanza for more than 200 unionized TELUS workers, who have been off the job in a labour dispute for the past six weeks.
They are now working for an environmental services company, cleaning up the fouled shoreline, instead of picketing their regular
Donna Hokiro, president of the Telecommunications Workers Union (TWU) Local 212 in Edmonton, got a call shortly after the Aug. 3
derailment and began working at Wabamun. She and her colleagues enjoy the reclamation work, finding it stimulating and meaningful.
"If you polled everybody, the experience out here, some say it's soul cleansing," says Hokiro. "It's been very good, in a sad way."
After starting work on the cleanup, Hokiro was asked if she knew of anybody else who might want to do the physical, outdoor work on a
casual basis. So she began calling other striking/locked out TELUS workers. Now she is staffing and logistics coordinator for a firm
subcontracted by CN Rail for the cleanup.
Hokiro, a 15-year TELUS employee, finds it ironic that the company she picketed against has such a large pool of talent, with so many
now employed in the lake cleanup.
"Our organization has such tremendous personnel," says Hokiro, who is normally a customer-service representative for TELUS Mobility.
"We come here well equipped. There is a tremendous work ethic and ability to do the job."
The TWU told members to prepare for a long strike -- six to nine months -- and to seek alternate employment. Hokiro said both the work
stoppage and spill of 1.3-million litres of bunker and pole-treating oil into Wabamun are unfortunate events. But TWU members are
making the best of a bad situation, Hokiro said.
"We're grateful for the opportunity. A lot of union members came out here and volunteered for the cleanup as well," Hokiro said. "It's
important for us to make a positive difference. It's about caring for your community and for the environment."
Hokiro and her colleagues would all rather be back at their regular jobs with TELUS. But they will not work under a contract that TELUS
imposed in July, following nearly five years of fruitless negotiation for a new pact.
"It's going to take years to rebuild the company," says Hokiro. "We're not bad workers who have been locked out. We're proud of our
phone company. It's not about being difficult."
Other TWU members echo Hokiro's enthusiasm in working the lake cleanup. "This is an excellent job," says Nalini Mangru, also a
TELUS Mobility customer service rep. "You're cleaning up the environment. This is a disaster situation where we're helping the
Canadian public and Alberta. It's beautiful out here, and to clean it up is important for the residents, for CN, for the tourists. We're doing a
good job and we like it out here."
Says Kim Woodroffe, also a TELUS Mobility customer service representative: "We love being out here. It's great to help. It's fulfilling."
Carl Kolotylo, a help-desk analyst with TELUS, said Wabamun residents are happy with the cleanup effort. "They appreciate us here.
And we're outdoors for the summer. How can you beat it?"
Hokiro said that TWU members have formed a strong kinship out at Wabamun. "We've made bonds that we otherwise would not have.
We wish a lot of things had never happened. But since they have, we're in a good place."
CN spokesman Graham Dallas said 446 people were employed by subcontractors in the cleanup, as of this week. While he said it is
surprising that nearly half of them are TELUS workers, the company is not concerned with what past affiliations workers have. "Our
primary concern is in getting the cleanup completed," Dallas said. Crews will be working along the lakeshore until freezeup and will be
back next spring as well.
CN has not tallied costs in the multi-million-dollar cleanup effort.
Besides the 200 TWU members at Wabamun, Hokiro said about another 300 in Edmonton have obtained alternate employment in a
variety of jobs, ranging from the construction industry to call centres.
The TWU has about 2,200 members in Edmonton. TELUS says more than half of them have crossed picket lines and returned to the
company. The company has accounted for a number of employees not returning to work in the event of a prolonged strike. But TELUS is
suspicious about the union's claim of 500 obtaining alternate temporary employment.
"We would question the validity of those numbers," said spokesman Jim Johannsson.
Source: Paul Marck - Edmonton Journal