July 9, 2020

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Hydro workers agree to three unpaid days off

More than 2,000 members of the International Brotherhood of Electric Workers have agreed to take three unpaid days off, to avert a four-month layoff of 189 IBEW members, over the next nine months. (John Woods / Canadian Press files)

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

More than 2,000 members of the International Brotherhood of Electric Workers have agreed to take three unpaid days off, to avert a four-month layoff of 189 IBEW members, over the next nine months. (John Woods / Canadian Press files)

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After resisting Manitoba Hydro's cost-cutting demands for weeks, more than 2,000 members of the International Brotherhood of Electric Workers have agreed to take three unpaid days off over the next nine months.

The decision, taken in a membership vote on Monday, averts the layoff of 189 IBEW members for a four- month period.

Hydro announced the layoffs earlier this month when the union executive refused to accept the unpaid days off. A clause in the union's contract requires three-months notice being given of any layoffs.

Mike Espenell, business manager with IBEW Local 2034, was unavailable for comment Wednesday.

However, documents obtained by the Free Press show the union accepted the three unpaid days after being assured that none of its members would be laid off -- with the exception of seasonal employees -- for the balance of the 2020-2021 fiscal year. Members were also given flexibility on how and when they can take the unpaid days off.

IBEW represents the workers that ensure the lights stay on and power is restored when it goes out. During last fall's ice storm, they worked long hours, some away from their families for weeks, as power was restored to thousands of Manitobans.

Hydro, which expects to show a profit of $47 million this year, asked for concessions from all its workers to meet government-mandated savings targets.

Manitoba Hydro power lines are photographed just outside Winnipeg, Monday, May 1, 2018. Manitoba's Crown-owned energy utility is issuing temporary layoff notices to 200 workers as part of its cost-control measures during the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Manitoba Hydro power lines are photographed just outside Winnipeg, Monday, May 1, 2018. Manitoba's Crown-owned energy utility is issuing temporary layoff notices to 200 workers as part of its cost-control measures during the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Thousands of other Hydro employees, represented by several other unions and associations, had already agreed to the demand for three unpaid days.

One union, Unifor, which represents workers in Hydro's natural gas unit, has refused to accept the unpaid days. As a result, 12 of its members have received temporary layoff notices.

A Unifor official recently accused Premier Brian Pallister of misleading the public when he promised to protect front-line workers during the pandemic.

The province has insisted on obtaining savings from Crown corporations, universities, colleges and provincial civil servants as it braces for a huge operating deficit due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hydro spokesman Bruce Owen said the corporation is pleased it was able to reach agreement on unpaid days off with IBEW. Temporary layoffs were not the corporation's preferred option, he said in an email.

Owen said all corporation managers and executive members will take three unpaid days off as well. The pay reduction will be spread equally over 20 pay periods between June 25, 2020 and March 31, 2021.

Previously, Hydro announced that close to 1,000 managers, executives and other non-union staff would take three unpaid days off. The corporation has also received agreement for the move from the Association of Manitoba Hydro Staff and Supervisory Employees (774 members) and the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 998, which represents 900 clerical and administrative staff.

Twenty-eight CUPE-represented workers faced temporary layoff if the union had not agreed to the unpaid days.

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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