By Donna Hokiro, president, Local 1944, United Steelworkers union
By now, many, if not most Canadians are familiar with the ubiquitous ads propagated for so long by telecommunications giant Telus Corp.
For more than two decades, Telus has attempted to build a “friendly” corporate brand with a marketing campaign based on videos and images of adorable animals, from pandas and meerkats, to giraffes and baby monkeys. Of course, these cute critters have nothing at all to do with the way Telus actually conducts its business operations. That reality, all too often, is less than “friendly.” Such as the brutal and relentless elimination of thousands of good-paying Canadian jobs over nearly the entire period Telus has been diverting the public’s attention with feel-good animal videos.
Most of the job losses Telus has inflicted on Canadian workers, their families and communities have come through off-shoring their operations to countries with much- weaker labour rights, wages and overall employment standards.
In addition to eliminating Canadian jobs in this fashion, Telus also has diverted tens of thousands of potential jobs from Canada through its offshoring of operations to countries where it is easier to exploit workers through lower wages and working standards.
Essentially, Telus has become a foreign telecom company.
The never-ending obsession of Telus management to offshore and contract-out good, family-supporting Canadian jobs has seen my union alone – United Steelworkers Local 1944 – lose about 12,500 members since 2005. Now, Telus is planning to eliminate another 4,000 jobs in Canada.
Through it all, the workers who have lost their jobs – and the thousands of others who will inevitably lose theirs if Telus has its way – have produced billions in profits for Telus, its executives and shareholders.
Through it all, Telus executives – particularly its CEO Darren Entwistle who has so zealously led the job-cutting and offshoring agenda – have been given exorbitant compensation packages.
To be sure, offshoring of jobs by big corporations is not unique to Telus. However, in our view, the ruthlessness with which Telus has executed this agenda, and the damage it has caused, is beyond the pale, and far exceeds what has been seen elsewhere in our domestic industry.
Our union and our members have been doing everything we can to fight Telus’ job-cutting agenda for years, and we will continue to do so. However, we need our governments to step up and assume their responsibilities to defend and save jobs for Canadian workers.
For example, in June the National Director of the Steelworkers union, Marty Warren, and I co-authored a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, raising the troubling issue of the federal government giving lucrative contracts to Telus over the years, while Canadian jobs have disappeared.
In fact, Telus has benefited from procurement contracts worth billions of dollars from federal and provincial government contracts, with those governments never once tying contracts to saving, let alone creating Canadian jobs.
In effect, these good-paying unionized Canadian jobs are being eliminated and the money being paid to Telus by its Canadian customers – including the federal government – is being used to fund this disastrous job-cutting agenda.
This is deeply irresponsible and has allowed massive job loss in our communities, we told the prime minister in our letter. We called on Trudeau and his government to make all current and future contracts with Telus contingent upon maintaining domestic jobs, and if it fails to do so, the government should suspend those contracts.
The federal government can no longer justify millions, even billions, in corporate subsidies to supposedly create jobs in Canada, when corporations instead eliminate our jobs, move them offshore and harm our communities and our economy. In particular, Canada should not be handing millions of Canadian dollars to Telus through procurement contracts without any required benefit to our country or our workers and their families.
We requested a meeting with the Prime Minister and his relevant cabinet ministers as soon as possible to help ensure steps are taken to defend Canadian workers. We are still waiting for such a meeting.
Much like offshoring jobs is not a Telus innovation, neither is its corporate-branding focused on animals. In both cases, the braintrust at Telus simply adopted someone else’s brainchild, and then enthusiastically – and in the case of offshoring brutally – executed it.
The animal-based advertising campaign designed to portray a “friendly” corporate image was simply co-opted from a cellular company that Telus purchased in 2000.
Telus ran with the concept because research shows that people feel happier and in a better mood from watching animal content compared to other types of media. That appears to us to be the Telus strategy – go all-in on the cute critters, and try to keep the decimation of good Canadian jobs, service issues and the high costs to consumers, on the down-low.
However, we will not be silent.
We know first-hand that Telus customer service suffers from poor workplace systems, inadequate employee training, sales pressurization at the expense of service, eliminating onshore union employees, and sub-par contractor work quality. More job cuts will only make a terrible situation worse.
We will continue to expose and fight Telus’ devastating agenda.
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