A Brief History of the TWU
The Telecommunications Workers Union (TWU) commemorated its 50th
anniversary in 1999. Originally chartered as the Federation of
Telephone Workers (FTW), the new name TWU was adopted in the
Historically, since 1949, the Union was exclusively the
bargaining agent for the workers at the B.C. Telephone Company,
or as it is now known, TELUS. That has changed somewhat in
recent years since the deregulation of the telephone industry in
The TWU has long been affiliated to the B.C. Federation of
Labour and the Canadian Labour Congress, as well as the
Communications International (formerly P1TI).
For the first 20 years since 1949, and for most of the past 20
years, there were few major labour disputes between the Union
and BC TEL. However, for about a dozen years in between, from
1969 through 1981, labour relations with BC TEL were rocky, to
put it mildly. Major issues such as wages and working conditions
during a time of high inflation, contracting out, jurisdiction,
layoffs, pensions, and more recently pay equity, have caused
tensions between the company and union which resulted in a
number of work stoppages.
Between 1949 and 1969, numerous contracts were negotiated
without strike or lockout. The late 1960's saw the
coincidence of rising labour militancy, generally and within the
FTW, and rising cost of living. In the summer of1969, Union
members went out on strike largely over monetary issues, seeking
to protect their standard of living through fair wage increases.
The strike lasted six weeks, and ended with a 20 per cent wage
increase over two years.
The year 1973 saw a strike at OK TEL, a subsidiary of BC TEL,
over the issues of pensions and wage parity with BC TEL. The
settlement which resulted, and a later merger with the OK TEL
and BC TEL units, resulted in the negotiation of a very sound
pension plan for all members, a defined-benefit plan jointly
trusteed and jointly funded, with the company contributing the
lion's share to the plan.
The issue of contracting out members´ work, along with
other concerns such as wages, led to a strike-lockout at BC TEL
in 1977. The result was a mediated settlement which included one
of the strongest contracting out clauses among telephone
companies in North America. It includes a clause which
specifically and severely limits the amount and type of work
that the company can contract out, and established a joint
Contracting Out and Technological Change committee with an
independent chairperson with power to impose settlements where
negotiations fail. The bar to contracting out work, and the
clause in the collective agreement which forbids the company
from laying off for reasons of technological change, have
effectively prevented the company from successfully implementing
any massive layoffs, and the Union has not suffered from the
downsizing that has afflicted many Telecom unions in North
America, with the company pretty much restricted to voluntary
buy outs to reduce the size of the workforce.
The last major labour dispute occurred in 1980-81, which
involved rotating strikes followed by a complete shutdown, and
in the aid an occupation of BC TEL buildings in Vancouver and
Nanaimo by elements within the union. Following that lengthy
strike, the telephone company began to take steps to improve the
labour climate, steps which included pensioning off some of the
management "dinosaurs" in Industrial Relations. Since
then, the TWU has successfully negotiated six collective
agreements including substantial wage increases without losing
any time to strikes or lockouts.
Since 1981, the TWU has engaged in campaigns on a number of
fronts. The Union fought hard against deregulation of the
telephone industry, and was successful until 1992. The union
also resisted a major layoff attempt in the early 1980s, going
to court to force the company to abide by the contract provision
which prevents layoffs purely for reasons of tech change. The
Union also resisted company efforts to centralize operations,
with mixed success. While some smaller centres saw offices
closed, the Union's campaign to enlist the support of local
community and municipal leaders limited the damage considerably,
and fewer members than originally expected were forced to choose
between leaving their communities and quitting their jobs. Then,
beginning in the late 1980s and into the 1990s, the Union made a
major push for pay equity for female members. Through collective
bargaining in three rounds of negotiations, the Union narrowed
the wage gap considerably, and in 1994, the Union followed that
up with a pay equity complaint to the Canadian Human Rights
Commission. That complaint is still pending.
While this was ongoing the structure underwent a major change.
For nearly the first 30 years after 1949, the FTW was known
affectionately as the "three-headed monster", as it
represented the three divisions (Clerical, Plant and Operator
Service) separately, with separate executives and divided
memberships. By the 1970's, it was becoming apparent that
such division and relatively small membership was not in the
best interests of the members. This resulted in a number of
proposals being put forward. One suggestion was a merger with
the U.S. based CWA, another proposal was a merger with the Bell
Canada Union, then known as the CWC. In fact, the FTW and CWC
did form a loose alliance in 1972 with joint membership in the
CFCW, but this was a voluntary association, and no further steps
toward a merger resulted.
Meanwhile, the union leadership was changing, with Bill Clark
replacing Bert Johns as General Secretary of the Plant Division
in 1970. In the mid-1970's, serious efforts got underway to
merge the three divisions into one union, which resulted in the
eventual formation of the Telecommunications Workers Union or
TWU. The One Union Concept gained gradual acceptance, and in
June 1977 the TWU held its first convention.
The President of the newly-formed TWU was Bob Donnelley. He was
replaced during the 1980 dispute by Bill Clark. Clark retired in
1987, and his place as TWU President was taken by Business Agent
Larry Armstrong. When Armstrong retired in 1992, then
Vice-President Rod Hiebert took over as President. Hiebert had
been elected to the post in June of 1991 and headed the
Union's Bargaining Committee from that time. He continues to
serve as President.
One other gradual change in the union's structure and
operation is the increasing role played by the female members.
During the first decade as the TWU, the three table officers
were all male. But with the retirement from the Union of
Secretary-Treasurer Don Bremner in 1988, the union elected its
first female table officer, Doreen McMillan.
The position of Secretary-Treasurer has been filled by a woman
many times, with McMillan succeeded by Cathy Henderson,
Henderson by Carol Nagy, and Nagy by Secretary-Treasurer, Kathy
Pearn, who retired in April 2002. Today, roughly half the
executive positions are filled by female members.