About 85 members of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP) employed at the SecurTek Monitoring Solutions monitoring centre in Yorkton were off the job Monday as part of a contract dispute with the home security division of SaskTel.
The one-day "study session" by members of CEP Local 3 was meant to send a wake-up call to management over stalled contract talks that have dragged on since their collective agreement expired in December 2009, said Susan Saunders, CEP's national representative.
"We've been trying to negotiate with the employer for the last month," Saunders said Monday. While talks have been underway since February 2010, issues such as wages remain unresolved, she said. In May, the members voted 98 per cent in favour of strike action to back the union's contract demands and served the required 48 hours strike notice on July 14.
Saunders pointed out the starting wage for a customer station attendant at SecurTek is $10.91, which she said is "not much above minimum wage." The minimum wage in Saskatchewan is $9.25 an hour, rising to $9.50 an hour Sept. 1.
"The key issue for us ... is the wages," Saunders said, adding SaskTel is offering the government mandate - a 5.5 per cent increase over three years - which she said doesn't even cover the increase in the cost of living.
She added CEP members are available to cover any emergency calls during the study session. "If there are any emergencies, we're willing and available to send people in to deal with those emergencies," she said, adding employees would back to work Tuesday.
Darcee MacFarlane, a SaskTel spokesperson, said management employees were providing the monitoring service for homes with SecurTek alarm systems during the study session. She said negotiations are expected to re-sume later this week.
MacFarlane said the starting rate at SecurTek was $10.90 per hour, but noted the "top rate" for a SecurTek customer station attendant was $15.78 per hour. She refused to confirm what SaskTel was offering SecurTek employees.
"We're negotiating within the criteria that we need to. We're also negotiating monetary and nonmonetary (issues)."
MacFarlane added SaskTel is negotiating with SecurTek employees "in the context of the security business, not the telecommunications business. . . . It's a different industry and it's two separate collective agreements."
On Friday, SaskTel announced its had reached a collective agreement with its telecommunications workers, who are also members of CEP , for a 5.5 per cent wage increase over three years.