Bell Canada is still uncertain who will be leaving as it begins a round of voluntary layoffs, but the union representing technicians is preparing to battle the telco over potential cuts in other areas. Last month, Bell Canada president/COO John Sheridan told analysts the company would be "streamlining approximately 1,700 employees." It was suggested more cuts would be made in management than in labour, but no firm figures were provided. Norm Berberich, director of external communications for the ILEC, tells Network Letter that definite numbers may be available by the end of the telco’s fiscal 2003 first quarter (March 31). To ensure a smooth transition, the company has already begun discussions with the Canadian Telecommunications Employees’ Association (CTEA) to offer incentives to workers. "I would stress at the outset," Berberich says, "these are voluntary process, voluntary workforce reductions, early retirement packages, severance packages and also we’ve negotiated with CTEA some fairly innovative packages and offerings we think create a win/win for the company to achieve its objectives and also for employees who want to achieve greater work/life balance." While the CTEA is willing to play ball with Bell, the telco’s other major union is gearing up for a fight. Brian Payne, president of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP), did not respond to repeated NL telephone calls for comment. But a glance at the union web site illustrates the militant reaction the CEP has to the announcement. A message posted online from Mike Douse, president of CEP local 25 in Toronto, claims 500 of the targeted workers are CEP technicians. He states that the company wants to replace full-time employees with contractors. He reminds his members that an article in the collective bargaining agreement offers them protection. "This article allows for layoffs only after Bell Canada has declared a surplus and rid themselves of all contractors," Douse writes. "Seniority is protected by allowing senior technicians to bump junior technicians in their jobs. The process is extremely intricate and detailed and will tie Bell Canada up for months." Bell’s Berberich is more sanguine about the options open to workers. He cites the use of community leave as a benefit for several sectors. "We would continue to pay a percentage of an employee’s salary who goes to work for a not-for-profit organization, a specifically registered charitable organization," he explains. "That’s a pretty good example of how creative we were able to get in developing these programs because it’s also beneficial for charitable organizations and not-for-profit organizations as well, who would gain potentially an additional resource." The chief stewards at local 25 are urging field technicians to do their own cable work rather than rely on contractors. If the job proves too onerous, CEP members should ask for help from other full-time technicians before using contractors, they advise. They also warn workers about other approaches to making the cuts. "Please keep in mind that during tough economic times, the company will be looking at other methods to rid itself of employees," the local says on its web site. "Often this results in management taking harsh disciplinary measures up to and including dismissals." Toronto local president Douse says Bell’s pensions are so poor, few workers can afford to take early retirement packages. He suggested, in a message written at the end of 2002, that the telco has an ulterior motive for the cutbacks. "Remember next year we begin bargaining and what a coincidence that Bell Canada is crying poor prior to this," he wrote. Berberich tells NL that the CEP contract expires in November 2003 while the CTEA agreement runs until Dec. 31, 2003.