Manitoba Hydro frontline workers with their union, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2034 went on strike on March 9.
Part of a plan for revolving protest throughout Manitoba, Virden workers took to the picket line on March 12.
Mike Espenell, business manager of IBEW Local 2034 told the Empire-Advance that their contract has been in dispute for 28 months, saying “We’ve been unable to get anything accomplished.
“We’ve been able to work collaboratively with the corporation for 62,” until recently, due to what he calls “interference.”
The union is asking for a cost of living increase, while over the last three years hydro workers have been asked to take a net reduction in wages – a 1.3 per cent reduction in pay in negotiations that began before COVID-19 hit.
He says frontline work for Manitoba Hydro is not a job for the faint of heart. Statistically, every two years someone loses their life on the job, while hundreds receive debilitating injuries and still others become ill from PCB and asbestos exposure.
Regarding the strike Manitoba Hydro provides information about service to customers on their website (www.hydro.mb.ca/): Electric service requests may be subject to delays or temporary suspension. Natural gas services will remain unaffected, and there’s a list including meter reading, disconnections or reconnections and other non-emergency items that will be delayed.
The corporation says, “Manitoba Hydro has developed and implemented contingency plans to help ensure that emergency and essential services, as well as public safety, are maintained.”
However, Espenell says the corporation does not have an essential services agreement, which he said was rather foolish.
Typically, for a fire or accident, when the fire departments respond, hydro workers also respond as they did for the fire at Pipestone auction in early March. But Espenell says there’s no agreement that currently covers those services during the strike.
The union is hoping the corporation is allowed to sit down and work out a cost of living agreement. He says Manitoba hydro has made some of the largest profits in its history of late, $111M profits in a recent quarter and profits are forecast to be $66M higher from last quarter.