Unifor, the union which represents up to 3,000 SaskTel employees says its members have voted in favor of a strong strike mandate if negotiations with SaskTel don’t go as planned.

For the last week and a half, the union presidents have been meeting with its members and they say all have agreed on the decision.

“For us, it’s about just getting back to the table and trying to get a fair collective agreement,” said Dave Kuntz, president of Unifor Local 1-S. “We know that our members are strong and they have provided a strong mandate.”

Negotiations between Unifor and SaskTel began on January 29 with Unifor handing in a proposal package but Kuntz says after meeting 10 times some progress was made on the non-monetary issues but SaskTel wasn’t moving forward far enough.

Three issues concerning Unifor’s members are fair compensation to help meet the rising cost of living, the practice of SaskTel hiring outside contractors and the mental health of its members.

Kuntz wants to make sure its members are considered first before outside contractors and contractors should only be considered as a secondary option.

“Our priority issue is contracting out. Our members should be doing that work prior to contractors being given full-time hours. We have members who are down to 8 hours per week and forced to take second and third jobs. This is a crown corporation and it doesn’t seem right to us,” added Kuntz.

Kuntz says on the other hand, employees are also being expected to work more with less which is leaving members to work longer hours and work through their lunch break. Penny Matheson, president of Unifor Local 2-S says the extra workloads are forcing many of its members to now take more sick days.

“If there’s a retirement, the job of two people is now rolled into one. People are stressed out, a lot of anxiety, a lot of depression, people are breaking down. The human body can work at a high percentage of work level for a period of time but eventually people break and that’s what we’re seeing and we’re trying to address those,” said Kuntz.

In a statement to CTV News, SaskTel says although it has received a strike mandate from Unifor, it has not yet been provided with a 72-hour notice of strike action so it will be business as usual.

“SaskTel remains committed to working through the process with Unifor to finalize a new collective agreement but SaskTel will not release details of the bargaining,” added Michelle Englot, SaskTel’s Director of External Communications.

Unifor has until September 20 to decide on whether or not its members will go on strike.

Negotiations between both parties will continue August 12 through August 14.