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Union warns NDP could privatize Hydro

IBEW asks how party can be trusted after PST hike

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A MANITOBA trade union is airing radio ads bashing the Selinger government for increasing the PST while raising the spectre that the NDP might even privatize Manitoba Hydro.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 2034 started running the provocative ads on the weekend. The local has close to 3,000 members, most of whom work for Hydro.

The union is upset about staff cutbacks in rural Hydro offices, diminished services to some customers and the "outsourcing of work to private business owners."

The 30-second radio spots ask whether job cuts and increased electricity rates are designed to ready Manitoba Hydro for privatization — a stunning accusation against a political party that fancies itself as the great defender of Manitoba’s largest Crown corporation.

‘In the life cycle of any government, even your friends start turning on you... your lies do eventually catch up with you’

— Hydro critic Ron Schuler

Mike Velie, Local 2034’s business manager, said the issues his members are dealing with now — including contracting out of work and the refusal of Hydro to fill vacancies — are similar to what the union faced before the Conservatives privatized the Manitoba Telephone System in the mid-1990s.

"This is reminiscent of what happened with MTS. They lied to us about the PST and how can we have any more trust in them?" Velie said of the government.

Manitoba Progressive Conservatives, who have held up the government’s legislative agenda this year in protest of the PST hike, were delighted to witness organized labour turn on the NDP.

Hydro critic Ron Schuler said the IBEW ads show "that in the life cycle of any government, even your friends start turning on you."

He said Premier Greg Selinger’s decision to raise the PST after promising not to is sticking in everybody’s craw.

"Your lies do eventually catch up with you," the St. Paul MLA said, adding everyone is beginning to feel the pinch from the tax hike.

On Tuesday, Selinger brushed off the accusation the NDP would ever privatize Hydro — something his party continually accuses the Conservatives of plotting.

Selinger said the union appears to have issues with Hydro, and he urged both sides to work out their differences."We encourage everybody at Manitoba Hydro to work together on resolving labour management issues," he said.

Velie said because of staffing cuts, some rural Manitobans have faced waits for electrical service. And due to centralization, some rural offices are open sporadically, while employees are shunted from town to town to maintain a bare-bones service. Some work is also being contracted out, he said.

Glenn Schneider, a Hydro spokesman, called some statements in the ad, such as the corporation’s imminent privatization, "pretty farfetched."

Schneider said it is true that Hydro is centralizing some of its activities, such as calls to customers who are behind in their payments. But it has not closed rural offices.

"We are trying to operate more efficiently and make some cost-savings wherever we can," he said. "People are concerned about increasing electricity rates."

Schneider said while the union has complained about the contracting out of some construction work, Manitoba Hydro does more construction work in-house than most North American utilities do.

 

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Wednesday, July 17, 2013 at 8:20 AM CDT: adds sidebar

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