Manitoba Hydro is making good progress in its bid to shed 900 positions, but a union official worries that worker and public safety are being compromised by the cuts.
By the end of January, 821 Hydro employees will have departed since the Crown corporation announced its ‘voluntary departure program’ last year.
"Most of the 821 positions are retirements, but included in this number are younger employees who, for a wide variety of reasons, chose to leave the corporation for a new career," Hydro spokesman Bruce Owen said Thursday. "There were no layoffs," he said.
The remaining 79 positions to be cut will occur through attrition, he added.
Mike Velie, business manager for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 2034, said the cuts are already taking their toll, as employees are pressured to accomplish more and more with fewer resources.
"The end result is that shortcuts are being developed to keep pace with increasing demands, and the necessary focus on ‘safety’ is gradually getting lost," Velie said in an email.
He noted several instances of damaged power poles being left in precarious positions — instead of being immediately replaced — due to staffing cuts and prohibitions on overtime.
"We have received calls from members that are being asked by supervisory staff to perform unsafe acts or to make unsafe repairs putting their safety and the safety of the public at risk," Velie charged. "Safety for employees in the workplace, and safety for customers paying for our public utility, are not luxuries, nor should they be negotiable."
Velie said about 300 of his members are leaving the corporation as a result of the buyout program. IBEW represents a broad range of workers, from journeyman electricians, engineering technicians, heavy-duty mechanics to construction inspectors, carpenters, line patrollers, storekeepers and high-pressure welders.
"Every safety incident has the potential to cause serious harm to persons and property, and to disrupt the economic well-being and livelihood of Manitobans from all walks of life," the union official said. "Stretching human resources, to the point where they can no longer supply the quality and quantity of services demanded by the public, puts everyone at risk."
With the staff departures, Hydro’s workforce will drop to about 5,400 by Feb. 1 — down from approximately 6,200 a year ago.
Hydro has instituted a hiring freeze, only approving the replacement of "critical positions," Owen said. At the same time, it’s reduced the size of its executive by 30 per cent and its management numbers by 25 per cent, he said.
In shedding the positions, the corporation will incur a one-time "restructuring" cost of about $55 million. However, the program is expected to generate operational and administrative savings of about $70 million annually.
"As an essential service our customers expect us to have proper succession plans in place in each division so that our work to expand and maintain the electric and gas sides of our business does not suffer," Owen said. "Our customers also expect a timely response by our front line staff during outages — this cannot suffer either."
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.
Updated on Friday, January 12, 2018 at 7:07 AM CST: Adds photo