Federal Court rules in TWU’s favour against Telus over "national" flavour of agreementThe Telecommunications Workers Union (TWU) has won a significant court decision in its two-year-old legal battle with Telus Corp., striking a major blow at the western telco in its fight with the union over collective bargaining. On September 9, the Federal Court of Appeal ruled that the Canadian Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) did have the right to revisit and reinterpret an agreement between the TWU and Telus. As a result of the reinterpretation, the CIRB ruled on February 9, 2001 that the collective bargaining unit should not be limited to only employees of the company in Alberta and British Columbia, but also include employees in other regions of the country as the company expands. The two groups have met more than 100 times to come to a consensus since the last collective bargaining agreement expired in December 2000. But the legal wrangling goes back to 1999 when BC Telecom Inc. and Telus Corp. decided to merge. Following the February 2001 CIRB ruling, Telus launched an appeal of that decision with the Federal Court of Appeal. Telus claimed that the CIRB didn’t have the jurisdiction to intervene, and if it did, it exercised its right in a "patently unreasonable manner." More specifically, the telco indicated that the CIRB didn’t have the right to revisit earlier decisions, which led to the February 2001 ruling. In its appeal, the telco presented a three-pronged argument. First, it argued that the CIRB improperly examined evidence and did so in a patently unreasonable manner. Second, the company stated this was a case of general contract law and was therefore outside of the CIRB’s expertise. Third, Telus claimed the board didn’t have the right to revisit its previous ruling according to section 18.1 of the Labour Code. In upholding the CIRB decision of February 2001, Justice Alice Desjardins ruled against the telco on all three matters. First, she noted, the CIRB did have the right to reinterpret the initial agreement because certain words were found to be unclear and ambiguous. Second, this type of agreement arises only in the context of labour issues and cannot be considered general contract law, she said. Lastly, she ruled that if an agreement couldn’t be met within a reasonable amount of time, the CIRB had the right under subsection 18.1(3) of the Labour Code to answer "any question that arises and make any orders it considers appropriate in the circumstances." The Federal Court of Appeal’s decision quashing Telus’ attempt to overturn the CIRB’s decision primarily involves its wireline employees, but wrangling over the wireless employees from the acquisitions of Clearnet Communications Inc. and QuébecTel Mobilité in 2000 continues before the CIRB. The next slate of hearings is scheduled to take place in Ottawa next month. The TWU posted a bulletin on its web site this week directed at Telus Mobility employees to inform them of the court decision. The full Federal Court of Appeal ruling is available at http://decisions.fct-cf.gc.ca/fct/2002/2002fca310.html. For more background information on the battle between Telus and the TWU, please refer to the September 16, 2002 issue of Report on Wireless and the August 13, 2002 issue of Network Letter.