Angry at losing out on work for Manitoba Hydro under the NDP, a local labour group has enlisted the help of Brian Pallister’s Progressive Conservatives.
The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers local 2034 joined Pallister at a news event this morning to condemn the NDP for gathering information about its membership "from Kijiji" and to criticize the government and Hydro for contracting out union jobs.
IBEW business manager Mike Velie made no apologies for joining forces with the PCs, at times vilified by the NDP and the unions at being the enemy of organized labour. In fact, one local union – the United Food and Commercial Workers local 832 – blacked out Pallister’s face in a photo of Pallister’s participation in an April 28 walk in support of workers killed and hurt on the job. The photo is in the May issue of the union’s magazine (page 9).
Velie said it was his job to protect his membership regardless of politics.
"We’re not against any party," he said. "What we’re opposed to is reckless contracting out."
He said he’s asked Manitoba Hydro for an explanation on its contracting out, and asked for a meeting with government, but has not gotten replies.
"It’s like there’s a full-out intent not to have Manitoba Hydro employees perform the work," he said.
He said since the NDP were elected in 1999 the IBEW has lost its work for Hydro in tree trimming, dam maintenance, pole maintenance and underground installations to private contractors.
He also said the government was inaccurate when it recently said that the NDP has grown the local by almost 650 members, and that Premier Greg Selinger was wrong when he said in the house April 9 that "there’s close to 700 additional linemen in Manitoba." (Hansard page 1,730)
Velie said there are only 117 hourly journeymen in the local of which half work in customer service centres, which means there are only 50-60 power line technicians to work on construction crews. Total local IBEW membership is about 2,800.
"Our growth is stifling," he said. "The IBEW at Manitoba Hydro is not growing at the same rates as the rest of the corporation."
Pallister said the NDP’s "erroneous" statements about growing IBEW membership have more to do about fear-mongering than fairness to workers.
"If you’re going to invent a modern myth, like the NDP does, it doesn’t matter if you get your facts right," Pallister said. "You just come out with a statement, don’t back it up with facts, repeat it innumerable times and hope like the boa constrictor in the toilet it gathers steam and people start to believe it."
Pallister said when he was last in provincial government as the government services minister, under former premier Gary Filmon, the Tories pursued special operating agencies to give government employees an opportunity to work rather than lay them off.
"My record speaks to the willingness to do that and my intention is to do that," he said.
"What the government is doing is they are preordaining that government workers cannot provide that service in a cost-effective way by not even giving them a shot at bidding on the work," he added. "It’s not shopping smart."
Last week St. Norbert NDP MLA Dave Gaudreau tweeted Pallister quit as emergency minister during the spring 1997 flood.
"It shows his lack of leadership and how he feels about MB," Gaudreau said in his tweet.
In fact, Pallister left cabinet months earlier in January 1997 to run federally.