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Manitoba Hydro employees strike after negotiations hit standstill

Click to play video: 'Manitoba Hydro workers go on strike' Manitoba Hydro workers go on strike
Manitoba Hydro workers walked off the job Tuesday and have begun a series of rotating strikes. Abigail Turner explains more – Mar 10, 2021

Manitoba Hydro saw dozens of employees walk off the job Tuesday after negotiations hit a standstill with their union.

Hydro says the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers local 2034 rejected the Crown corporation’s latest offer Tuesday morning, and served a two-hour strike notice not long after.

Wednesday morning, about 30 workers were on the picket line at the Manitoba Hydro building on Portage Avenue.

Read more: Manitoba Hydro served with 48-hour strike notice from union

Hydro spokesperson Bruce Owen says the strikes start with customer service staff in Winnipeg being the first to walk out, which started Tuesday around 4:30 p.m. for 24 hours.

The union later confirmed suburban overhead construction workers walked off the job just a few hours later.

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“Earlier today, Manitoba Hydro tabled a formal offer to the IBEW in the hopes of successfully concluding contract negotiations. The offer followed months of negotiations, most recently conducted with the aid of a conciliator, while abiding by the financial mandates provided to Manitoba Hydro by the provincial government,” Owen said in an email.

Owen added the new three-year deal offered contained:

  • A 0.75 per cent wage increase in the third year retroactive to Jan. 1, 2021.
  • No IBEW employee would be subject to layoff should his/her position be eliminated as a direct result of the contracting out of the work normally performed by that employee for the fiscal year ending March 2022.
  • Recognizing the impact of COVID-19 on field workers, Manitoba Hydro offered to make a one-time allocation of 80 hours to sick leave balances for IBEW front-line employees who in fiscal year 2020-21 worked at least 30 per cent of their time in the field.
  • Added flexibility to the Fitness Subsidy Program.
  • On account of COVID-19, the Fitness Subsidy be increased on a one-time-only basis in calendar year 2021 by $100 for a total of $350.

Manitoba Hydro says it has contingency plans in place to ensure it can continue to provide its essential and emergency service to customers and maintain public safety around its facilities and infrastructure.

The union’s business manager, Mike Espenell, told Global News on Tuesday night while he appreciates some parts of the proposal, wages are still the main sticking point.

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“We’re not looking for an increase, but we want to maintain where we are,” he explains. “(Adding) the cost of living would help to do that.”

“If you go back over the last two years, we’ve been required to take rollbacks at the same time other bargaining groups (with Hydro) haven’t. We’re just looking to be treated fairly.”

Espenell cites other workgroups within Manitoba Hydro like AMHSEE, CUPE, and UNIFOR that achieved increases of 1.5 per cent in 2019 and 1.25 per cent in 2020.

Read more: Manitoba Hydro workers just looking for fair process: union rep

Espenell says his members didn’t take much of an issue when asked to take a 1.5 per cent pay reduction amid the coronavirus pandemic last year.

“The corporation was in financial hardship and at that point we were told corporate profits were forecasted to be $47 million for (2020 3rd quarter).”

“Then it appears as if those days taken from us were used to bolster profits by $64 million over that brief period of time.”

Espenell says th Union has also asked for a stipend for front-line workers.

“Groups like the University of Manitoba (Faculty Association) received $1950 for their staff as a result of the difficulties with COVID-19.”

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“We feel that our front-line staff have had to endure greater hardship and have received nothing similar.”

Espenell believes his members aren’t asking for anything more than fair treatment.

“We never sought anything more than (cost of living increases). We’re just trying to maintain our current provisions and our current benefits.”

According to the union’s website, the Hydro employees operate, maintain and repair all of Manitoba Hydro’s facilities — everything from the large generating stations to the trucks.

Espenell says there’s no scheduled meetings between the two sides as of Tuesday evening.

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