Early Thursday morning, several dozen Crown workers picketed outside of SaskEnergy’s White City Service Centre, which serves Regina and surrounding rural areas. This centre is the main base for service technicians in the Regina area to respond to emergencies such as gas line ruptures, underground leaks and carbon monoxide alarms.
The facility also holds SaskEnergy’s provincial 24-7 emergency dispatch centre, where costumers call for emergency assistance.
The union sent out a message to SaskEnergy employees Wednesday night indicating that the centre would be completely shut down, with no one allowed inside.
SaskEnergy’s main concern with the White City strike was that unionized employees needed for emergency response may be delayed getting into and out of the facility, which could impact public safety.
“We’re not letting any managers come in today. Obviously, anything to do with essential service we’re letting people go in and do what they need to do from an essential service perspective,” said Scott Doherty, executive assistant to Unifor’s national president Jerry Dias.
“We’re pleased that Unifor respected the terms of our essential services agreement and allowed technicians responding to emergencies to come and go without delays,” SaskEnergy spokesperson Dave Burdeniuk said.
“We respect our union’s right to protest during a labour dispute but we always want to make sure these actions do not impact public safety,”
Unifor wants a two percent raise every year for three years, plus lump sum payments for expired years of their contract. Crown employers are offering a five percent increase spread over five years but with two years of no wage increase upfront.
The province contends that the Crown’s current offer of a five per cent wage increase over five years for Unifor employees is greater than the increase MLAs have received over the past five years.
Including the most recent increase, MLAs have received 0.0 per cent, 1.6 per cent, minus 3.5 per cent, 3.5 per cent and 2.3 per cent, which equates to a 3.9 per cent increase over a five-year span.
“A one per cent general wage increase for Unifor employees at the six CIC Crowns and the Water Security Agency equates to approximately $3 million per year in increased cost. A one per cent general wage increase across the entire public sector (Crowns and executive government) would cost about $80 million per year, ” said Executive Council media relations officer Matthew Glover.
With Unifor’s two per cent wage increase demand, that would cost $6 million annually.
The province is hoping to balance its books this year with its current $26 million dollar surplus for the provincial budget. However, that amount is $8 million less than the projected $34 million first-quarter surplus in the 2019-20 budget.
“Our members are the ones that generated that surplus. The crowns generated $400 million last year, SaskTel alone made $170 million. So they’re generating money and that money should go back to our members,” said Doherty.
For workers, their issues span beyond a numbers game. “This isn’t just about money, this is about job security, this is about contracting out, this is about safety issues.”