Canadian Unions Back Their Bosses Against Verizon

While it’s no surprise that the big three wireless companies are opposed to the possibility of American giant Verizon entering the Canadian market, some of the country’s largest unions saying the same thing.

“We don’t see them providing any net value for Canada,” says Lee Riggs, national president of the Telecommunications Workers Union (TWU), which represents over 12,000 workers at Telus.

“I don’t think people realize that for every job that the telecos create there are six spin-off jobs,” says Riggs. “They’re not planning on bringing any jobs to Canada.”

Ironically, Verizon has been the subject of protests in the United States for outsourcing hundreds of call centre jobs to Canada, among other countries.

But Riggs thinks it could go further than that – he says that if people switch from Canadian companies to Verizon, Canadian support workers could lose their jobs.

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Despite this, Riggs says he doesn’t think that a Verizon entry into the Canadian market will lead to lower prices for consumers. He says several Canadian companies already offer better deals than Verizon.

“If you compare iPhone to iPhone,” says Riggs, “It’s actually cheaper in Canada.”

Instead, he says he expects Verizon to “offer short-term incentives” or “loss leaders” to win market share and then raise prices.

TWU isn’t alone in their opposition to Verizon, the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP), the Canadian Auto Workers, and the United Steelworkers (which announced merger plans with TWU on Thursday), have also spoken out against the company coming to Canada.

The CEP has called for the federal government to establish a public wireless company rather than allow Verizon to enter the market.

“Why not set up a Crown telecommunications company that will hire Canadians, build on this country’s impressive history in the sector and return the surplus to the public?” said CEP president Dave Coles in a press release.

(Techvibes scheduled an interview with Coles only to have it postponed several times; further calls to Coles were not returned).

Riggs doesn’t seem ready to go that far – he wants the federal government to conduct a “complete review of the wireless policy.”

And, he says, he doesn’t have a problem with taxpayer incentives for small startups that are entering the marketplace.

“We don’t have a problem with fair competition,” he says.

Riggs says that Verizon could have an unfair advantage, in part, because it will target customers in large urban centres. He says Telus has spent $100 million building rural networks since 2000.

Verizon is “not going to be under the same mandate,” Riggs says.

Verizon owned 20 per cent of Telus until 2004, when it sold its share in the company. Riggs says he also worries that if Verizon enters the Canadian market, Canadians private data could be more accessible to American spy agencies.

But there might be something else driving the unions’ opposition. Of Verizon’s 40,000 employees in its wireless division, only 70 are unionized, according to Riggs.

Photo: The Associated Press Files, Postmedia News