WCB employees vote to give union strike mandate

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Employees at the Workers Compensation Board of Manitoba have given their union a strike mandate.

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Employees at the Workers Compensation Board of Manitoba have given their union a strike mandate.

The estimated 450 WCB and Safe Work Manitoba employees belong to Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 1063 and have been without a contract since March 2021.

“There hasn’t been a work stoppage here in living memory,” union local president Rick Rennie said.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Employees at the Workers Compensation Board of Manitoba have given their union a strike mandate.

Voter turnout was 90.7 per cent of the membership, with 95.5 per cent casting ballots in favour of a strike mandate, he said.

Although union members at the WCB aren’t employed by or paid by the province, they accepted the terms of the controversial four-year wage-freeze legislation passed by the Progressive Conservative government in 2017.

In their last four-year agreement, WCB workers settled for freezes in the first two years, followed by annual wage increases of 0.75 and one per cent.

“It didn’t go near to even keeping pace with inflation over those four years from 2017 to 2021,” said Rennie. “Since then, obviously, we’ve had record-high inflation.

“Basically what it all amounts to is that our members have experienced a very considerable reduction in their real wages, the buying power of their wages, over the last six years.”

Meanwhile, the WCB has posted surpluses and provided rebates to employers, he said.

In April, the WCB announced that for the fourth consecutive year it would distribute surplus funds to employers whose premiums fund the workers compensation system. Employers would receive a credit based on 50 per cent of their 2021 premium, it said.

The surplus was the result of successful injury-prevention and return-to-work programs.

Rennie said it’s employees who make sure such programs succeed.

“It’s our work and talents… that make the system run and made it run — in the last few years, especially — quite successfully,” he said. “We know those services are important and our people take pride in providing those services…. That’s what we want to continue doing.

“What’s on the table right now, it’s just just inadequate.”

The WCB said Tuesday it is aware the union received a strike mandate from its members.

“We are committed to negotiating a fair collective agreement with our employees,” WCB communications director Radean Carter said in an email. “The parties are committed to returning to the table at the end of September and look forward to continuing discussions.”

The WCB employees join workers at Dynacare laboratories and the City of Winnipeg who have also armed their unions with mandates.

The 300 private-sector workers who do the bulk of blood tests and urinalysis for Manitoba’s health-care system are seeking pay increases to make up for cost-of-living increases after their last contract was aligned with Bill 28 — the wage-freeze legislation that was passed, but never proclaimed into law, thus never in effect.

A labour coalition successfully challenged the measure in 2020; a Manitoba judge referred to it as “draconian.” But the Manitoba Court of Appeal reversed that decision the following year, ruling that the proposed legislation was constitutional. Despite the victory, the provincial government repealed the legislation earlier this year.

On Tuesday, the Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals said its bargaining committee has agreed to mediation, and is working out the details.

Nearly 4,900 city employees represented by CUPE Local 500 have been asked sign up for picket duty following the failure of the most recent round of contract negotiations.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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