ABSTRACT

When the United Steelworkers organized Omega Direct Response’s (OMDR) Sudbury call center, it marked an important new frontier for the union. For a time OMDR set a standard for successful organizing in this seemingly untouchable industry. But in a few short years this triumph would turn to defeat. The union failed to make inroads at OMDR’s other call center located in Toronto, some three hours south of Sudbury, and by 2009, the company’s northern Ontario facility shut its doors for good. This was one of a handful of call centers where the Steelworkers have had a presence since the late 1990s. But the unionization of these important postindustrial workplaces has an interesting history. Trade union representation in the country’s call centers has traditionally followed the patterns of trade union density that correspond to the parent sector, like telecommunications, public services, and utilities. This is why a majority of call center workers employed within these industries possess a trade union density rate that far exceeds the national average. Conditions of work in the precursor to the wider IT enabled services (ITES) sector in Canada, then, has been shaped by the intervention of unions and the institution of collective bargaining. The emergence of call center employment as a relatively independent industry in Canada has only developed recently, which distinguishes the evolution of this workplace from its Indian counterparts. What’s more, there is no defi nitive ITES or “call center” union in Canada. In fact, a constellation of trade unions now represent thousands of members in these important, post-industrial workplaces.