Bell Fires 400+ Workers Virtually, Doesn’t Let Them Talk: Union [Update]

Unifor Bell terminates workers on virtual group meetings

Unifor, the union that represents over 19,000 telecom workers, has slammed Bell for terminating hundreds of its members through virtual meetings, a move that came just a day after the union rallied in Ottawa against the company’s job cuts.

This action follows Bell’s announcement nearly six weeks ago of its plan to eliminate thousands of jobs, despite continuing to report significant profits and increase shareholder payouts.

“These members have been living in dread of a meeting invite to find out they’ve lost their job since Bell announced the termination of thousands of jobs almost six weeks ago,” said Lana Payne, Unifor National President, in a statement on Wednesday evening.

“The truth is Bell picked a number of heads to roll so it could increase its dividend payout without an actual plan on which jobs and which workers would be eliminated so the terminations are cruelly dragged out,” said Payne.

The layoffs began with notifications to over 400 members of the Bell Clerical Bargaining Unit, declaring them ‘surplus’ and potentially eligible for retirement incentives.

One notable instance involved a 10-minute virtual meeting led by Bell’s Human Resources and Labour Relations manager, where participants were not permitted to ask questions. They were not allowed to unmute on the virtual meeting. The whole “Bell Let’s Talk” campaign just takes on a new meaning.

Following union backlash, Bell said it would adjust its approach to allow for questions in future virtual meetings.

“Our members, who have devoted years of service to this telecoms and media giant, are being repaid with pink slips. If that’s not beyond shameful, I don’t know what is,” said Daniel Cloutier, Unifor Quebec Director.

Unifor launched a “Shame on Bell” campaign in light of the company’s announcement last month to cut 4,800 jobs, including 800 Unifor members in both the telecom and media sectors. This wave of layoffs adds to a total of more than 6,000 job cuts in the past eight months. Bell reported profits of $2.3 billion at the end of the previous year.

“Our dedicated, loyal, workers, who are predominately women, will have to explain to their families tonight that they are being let go from Bell for no good reason other than making sure that their shareholders and Board of Directors come first when getting paid,” said Unifor National Secretary-Treasurer Len Poirier, in a statement. “It’s absolutely disgusting.”

Update March 21, 2:10pm PDT: A Bell spokesperson sent the following statement to iPhone in Canada, in response to this Unifor story:

Bell announced a restructuring on February 8 at all levels of the company, and since that time, Bell has been working with Unifor and other unions on the impacts to our unionized workforce. Bell has been very transparent with Unifor leadership about the process in which these discussions would take place, having started discussions over five weeks ago, and has met all of our obligations under the respective collective bargaining agreements.

As planned with Unifor, on March 20, Bell initiated calls with groups of our unionized team members to give notice of upcoming actions taking place, which include both a voluntary separation program and surplus reductions. Employees who were informed that they were being let go additionally had individual meetings with an HR representative to discuss their individual packages and to ask questions. They also have the option to invite a union representative to the meeting. Bell is offering departing surplus employees fair and competitive severance packages, including providing non-working notice and salary continuance as negotiated with the union. Most of the employees are remote workers as enshrined in their collective bargaining agreement, and therefore all of these discussions are being handled remotely so that they are not called into an office.

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