Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 3/2/2017 (1974 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Manitoba Hydro is cutting 900 jobs — 15 per cent of its workforce — and there's more to come.
The cuts will come from throughout the entire organization, including the elimination of three vice-president positions, and should save the utility $65 million a year.
But that won't be enough to save Manitobans from significant rate increases for the next five years unless the provincial government provides financial help, Hydro board chair H. Sanford Riley said Friday in a prepared statement.
"Even with these reductions, double-digit annual rate increases would be required for at least five years in order to re-establish Manitoba Hydro on a proper financial footing," he said.
"We believe that a balanced approach in which the government — the owner of Manitoba Hydro — invests equity into Manitoba Hydro, will allow the utility to moderate rate increases to more manageable levels."
Kelvin Shepherd, the Crown corporation's president and CEO said the intention was to reduce the 6,200-person workforce more slowly through attrition, but the utility couldn't wait any longer. He said Hydro wants to cut as many of the jobs as possible by the end of 2017.
There are between 900 and 1,000 employees eligible for retirement, though they may not all be in jobs Hydro wants to reduce, and they won't necessarily be willing to take a buyout. Shepherd wouldn't say what the next move would be if 900 people don't leave voluntarily.
And he declined to answer questions about the amount of financial help the board is seeking or the size of rate increases Manitobans could expect.
"Those are all discussions between the board and the government," he said.
Premier Brian Pallister has, so far, resisted making any commitment to a Hydro bailout and was not available for comment Friday.
The government released a statement from Crown Services Minister Ron Schuler, who pointed the finger at the NDP.
"Serious problems, created by political decisions and direction of 17 years of NDP government, have forced the board of directors of Manitoba Hydro to make some very difficult decisions," Schuler said.
"Addressing the financial challenges of Hydro will take time. Our government will continue to monitor the corporation's ongoing efforts. We will review and consider Manitoba Hydro's plan for the future alongside the necessary processes of the Public Utilities Board, which will play a significant role moving forward."
NDP labour critic Tom Lindsey called the decision "a shocking and shortsighted move."
"The loss of so many skilled workers puts Hydro’s long-term future in doubt by making it more difficult to finish projects on time and meet export contract deadlines, Lindsey said in a prepared statement. He said "it will force Hydro to rely more heavily on contract and out-of-province labour to fill the gaps Pallister is creating."
Hydro said in the fall that megaprojects approved by the former NDP government would doom the utility to doubling its debt to $25 billion and cause serious damage to Manitoba's credit rating.
Friday's news came as no surprise to the unions representing the bulk of Hydro's workforce.
"They certainly made lots of noises in the fall," said Unifor's Paul McKie. "First they create the false story of a financial crisis, now they kill hundreds of good jobs."
McKie, the union's Manitoba and Saskatchewan area director, said there's plenty of anger over the announcement.
"It's not good — 900 jobs is massive," he said, adding Unifor has no idea how many of its members will be affected. "To take 900 good-paying jobs out of the Manitoba economy is vicious."
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International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2034 president Mike Velie said Hydro is targeting 200 to 250 IBEW-member positions but has not provided specifics.
About 280 members are currently eligible to retire, Velie said.
"They have a brand-new board hand-picked by the premier," Manitoba Federation of Labour president Kevin Rebeck said. "This is a broken promise. Manitobans put their trust in (Pallister) to protect services."
The Canadian Union of Public Employees has already lost 150 Hydro jobs in the last five years and recently agreed to a wage freeze in the first year of a four-year deal, Local 998 president Chris Mravinec said, adding further reductions of CUPE members will affect customer service.
Founded in 1961, Manitoba Hydro has 6,463 employees with an annual payroll of about $450 million.
Last fall, the newly-appointed board concluded the utility's finances are in far worse shape than the former NDP government had reported.
Completing the Bipole III and Keeyask generating megaprojects will almost double debt to $25 billion and jeoprdize Manitoba's credit rating, said the Hydro board.
Hydro says on its website that about 96 per cent of the electricity Manitoba Hydro produces each year – 30 billion kilowatt-hours on average – is clean, renewable power generated at 15 hydroelectric generating stations on the Nelson, Winnipeg, Saskatchewan, Burntwood and Laurie rivers.
The province's remaining electricity needs are fulfilled by two thermal generating stations, four remote diesel generating stations, and purchases from independent wind farms in Manitoba.
Information about operations, equipment, and rates is at www.hydro.mb.ca
Hydro workers leaving utility's downtown headquarters after work Friday were mostly tight lipped, shaking their heads or politely declining comment on the impending buyouts and layoffs.
Dozens filed out of the building about 3:30 p.m., their ear buds in, many NHL fans wearing toques with the Winnipeg Jets logo.
None would agree to give their names but the few who shared their concerns seemed resigned, describing the mood among the workforce inside the state-of-the art office tower as "pragmatic."
"They'll get a handle on things come the spring," said one man headed for the bus stop on Graham Avenue.
"I'm just working hard and carrying on with business as usual," said another, hurrying across the street.
Other employees disclosed they'd known about the cuts for months.
"We've been told that there will be 900 for three or four months now," said one.
"Everyone knows there's been stuff going on. But in my department there hasn't been much conversation. We'll see what Monday brings," said another, a woman who said she's worked for Hydro for three years.
Responses fell into two categories, the ones too young to retire and others who are close to retirement age.
"I guess it's always in the back of your mind. We always keep our resumes polished up, just in case. I'm a professional and I've got a degree that's transferable. Ya, I don't know what to tell you," said one man who's worked for hydro for the last 14 years.
One man with 16 years at the utility said he was living on hope. "I'm hoping I'm young enough that they won't can me," he said.
Those who appeared to be in their 50s or 60s said they were close enough to retirement that they might opt for buy-outs. Hydro has told its workforce that people at retirement age can expect letters in the coming weeks.
"There is a voluntary departure program. People who are eligible for retirement, they'll send out a letter saying you'll get two weeks for every year served up to, like 30 years," said one man with 30 years on the job.