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Bell workers standing strong despite stalemate

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Almost 9,500 Bell Canada operators and technicians from across Ontario and Quebec, including 15 here, remain on strike for a third week with no apparent end in sight.

In a show of solidarity, more than 35 members of CEP Local 49, which includes all Bell technicians and operators from Fort Frances and Thunder Bay, gathered with signs in hand outside the Bell office here last Thursday.

Noting that Bell and the union have been at an impasse since April 8, Dave Moyer, vice-president of CEP Local 49, gave his thoughts on the situation.

“I was on a conference call yesterday and all the locals on strike have reported good turnouts all over Ontario and Quebec--people are really rallying behind us,” he said.

The union beef with the company concerns Bell’s plan to contract out operator positions to a company called Excel.

“We want to overturn that decision,” said Moyer. “Who knows? Technicians could be next, and I’ve heard a lot of talk of Bell going to other companies to provide that service.”

Moyer noted he believed Bell may have to call a meeting soon even though none are scheduled.

“What we’ve been hearing is that Ameritech, a company that has bought 25 percent of Bell, has put feelers out to Bell, saying, ‘Hey, we should really get this settled,” he remarked.

“It looks like without any resolution, they may pull out of the deal.”

Moyer also noted Bell reportedly is feeling pressure from its customers. “There’s orders that aren’t getting done and directory assistance has gone down in quality,” he charged.

“We have highly-skilled operators and without them, it’s not easy for Bell to keep things going,” he added. “I think Bell’s image has definitely taken its toll since the strike started.”

Bell Canada spokesperson Ann Mahdy said the company is seeking to settle with the unions if a “fair” agreement can be made.

“Bell Canada has agreed to keep lines of communication open with the unions through a mediator,” she said Monday.

The company made an offer to the unions April 6, which the unions voted on and rejected.

“Unions informed us at that time that there would be strike action on April 8. Sure enough, they did go on strike then,” noted Mahdy.

She stressed that through their current communications with the unions, Bell Canada is continuing to strive for an agreement with the union workers that would be good not only for the company but for its customers and employees.

“We’re trying to keep the company a competitive one which, in the long run, means more growth and more jobs,” she remarked.

Although Mahdy confirmed Bell Canada’s partnership with Ameritech, she could not comment on any “lack of stability” as Moyer suggested.

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