Thousands of Hydro workers walk off job

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Manitoba Hydro electrical workers walked off the job Tuesday afternoon after rejecting a contract offer from the Crown corporation that included two years of wage freezes.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/03/2021 (555 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Manitoba Hydro electrical workers walked off the job Tuesday afternoon after rejecting a contract offer from the Crown corporation that included two years of wage freezes.

The 2,300 members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2034 announced they would stay off the job until Thursday at 8 a.m.

The union said its membership overwhelmingly rejected the corporation’s final offer.

Manitoba Hydro workers walk the picket line in Winnipeg on Tuesday. The 2,300 members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2034 rejected the corporation's final offer. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

The IBEW said 88 per cent of members who cast a ballot voted against the proposed deal. Turnout for the vote was pegged at 94 per cent.

The workers have been without a contract for more than two years. Hydro’s offer included wage freezes for 2019 and 2020, a 0.75 per cent increase this year and a one per cent increase in 2022.

The offer mirrors a Progressive Conservative government directive contained in a bill that organized labour successfully challenged in Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench last year. The government is appealing the ruling.

NDP Leader Wab Kinew blamed the government for the bargaining impasse.

“The strike is being brought about because of the premier insisting on a wage freeze even though the courts in Manitoba have ruled against him on that,” he said Tuesday.

A day earlier, Premier Brian Pallister accused Kinew of inappropriately interfering in the contract dispute by publicly supporting the workers. He repeated his assertions at a news conference on Tuesday.

“I’d like to see negotiations result in a settlement that is satisfactory to the workers and to the management,” Pallister said.

The premier could pave the way for an agreement by butting out of the negotiations, Kinew said.

“Why doesn’t Mr. Pallister remove the constraints, remove the interference that he’s put in place… and allow Manitoba Hydro to negotiate a fair deal with these IBEW members?” he said.

The IBEW is willing to resume bargaining at any time, said Mike Espenell, the union’s business manager.

“We feel at this point that arbitration is probably the only place we’re going to get a fair shake,” he said Tuesday in advance of the strike.

The corporation has contingency plans to maintain electricity service for its customers, said Bruce Owen, a Hydro spokesman.

“Public safety is our No. 1 priority, and we will do everything we can to ensure we respond to issues as quickly as possible until the strike is over,” he said in an email.

The corporation will redeploy staff from other areas of the business as required, Owen said.

“In the event of a major weather event, calls will be prioritized based on public safety first, followed by outages affecting large numbers of customers, and then more localized outages affecting smaller groups or individual customers,” he said. “Restoration times may, however, be slower than under normal operating circumstances.”

Hydro is assessing its next steps to resolve the strike, Owen said.

“No decisions have been made yet,” he said.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

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