Premier Pallister is playing smoke and mirrors with Hydro

Winnipeg – Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister is playing smoke and mirrors with the public, and is using the COVID-19 pandemic to justify his agenda of public sector cuts, says CUPE 998 President Michelle Bergen representing clerical and technical staff at Manitoba Hydro.

“The half-truths and disinformation coming out of the Premier’s mouth show a deep lack of leadership, and need to be addressed,” says Bergen in response to Pallister’s media conference today.

The Premier consistently claims that public sector unions have not been participating in meaningful dialogue with government or government departments as per Pallister’s April 17 demand for reduced spending.

There is no merit to the latest claim that Manitoba Hydro staff and their representatives have not been participating in constructive dialogue.

On April 20, CUPE and other unions representing Manitoba Hydro employees provided numerous suggestions for alternatives and requested more in-depth discussions, including the option of pursuing Work Share programs (as suggested by Pallister himself), but were turned down by Hydro.

The mandate from government becomes clear: it is either wage rollbacks or layoffs, regardless of what discussions took place.

“The reality is that unions have been at the forefront of constructive labour relations during the pandemic, offering solutions and ideas, and I don’t think the Premier expected that”, says Bergen.

“Pallister is caught in his own web, and is looking for anyone to blame, whether it be unions, universities, school divisions or Crowns who are telling him they just can’t cut any more.”

The government has resisted questions on what employees constitute ‘non-essential’ for the purposes of layoffs.

To-date Pallister has provided only deflections and musings about how we’re all family and we need to pull up our boot straps, or something tedious like that.

“Premier Pallister needs to stop using the pandemic as a smoke screen for his austerity agenda, and he needs to come clean to Manitobans”, concludes Bergen.

In the meantime, it is CUPE 998’s intention to get back to meeting with Hydro to discuss alternatives to mass layoffs.

Pallister pushes reckless plan to lay off 700 at Manitoba Hydro

WINNIPEG – Unions representing Manitoba Hydro workers across the province are outraged that the Premier is putting the safety and reliability of public energy at risk by forcing mass, unjustified job cuts.

AMHSSE, CUPE, IBEW and Unifor have been in talks with Manitoba Hydro. Government demanded huge cuts from public bodies, and Hydro plans to move ahead with up to 700 layoffs to meet the target. The Unions are warning Premier Pallister that this is no time to cut essential services and frontline workers.

“This is reckless. Manitoba Hydro is an essential public service that is operating at full capacity throughout this pandemic,” said Michelle Bergen, President of CUPE Local 998. “Pallister has had his eyes on our public Hydro since he was elected in 2016. Pallister’s cuts are not to support the fight against COVID-19, they are purely political. This will be devastating.”

Added Terry Dunlop, President of AMHSSE: “The government’s demand for cuts at Hydro has been relentless. The government is supposed to be supporting frontline workers and Manitobans. These job cuts hurt, not help.”

The Unions learned that Hydro found temporary savings in other areas and would have been able to deliver nearly all the demanded savings over fours months – but Pallister insisted on deep job cuts. Unions proposed a work share plan, but Hydro claimed it would not be eligible. Unions learned that Hydro included vacancy management (leaving vacant positions unfilled) measures in their cost-cutting plan, but even that was not enough for government. Hydro told unions today that they would be laying off 11-13% of the workforce, or 600-700 people.

“It’s time for us to stand up for safe, reliable public energy,” said Mike Espenell, Business Manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. “These mass job cuts will put Hydro in a dangerous position. We are working full-tilt and using safe practices during the pandemic. We are doing our part, coming to work every day. This pandemic could be a lot worse to handle if Manitobans in care, at home, at work and in industry have to wait longer for service because of Pallister’s reckless cuts.”

The Unions argue that job cuts and wage depression for frontline workers at the utility have left no room for more job cuts. In recent years, at the Premier’s behest, Hydro workers have already taken two years of flatlined wages, and the frontline workforce has been downsized.

Added Victor Diduch, Acting President of Unifor Local 681: “We have already been cut to the bone – Hydro’s annual payroll cost has been going down for four years. To meet Pallister’s demands to cut costs, we are getting into the danger zone. It makes no sense to hammer workers – all that does is compromise our public hydro and gas service, and take money away from families who are trying to get through this crisis. Pallister is clinging to an austerity agenda during the pandemic, against all evidence.”

For more information or to arrange an interview:

Association of Manitoba Hydro Staff and Supervisory Employees (AMHSSE)
Terry Dunlop, President                         204-981-4505   tdunlop@hydro.mb.ca

Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 998
Michelle Bergen, President                    204-792-7412   mibergen@hydro.mb.ca

International Brotherhood Electrical Workers Local 134
Mike Espenell, Business Manager          204-941-3766   mespenell@ibew2034.com

Unifor Local 681
Victor Diduch, Acting President              204-791-1679  vdiduch@hydro.mb.ca

 

 

 

 

 

CUPE Seeking Alternatives to Pallister Public Sector Layoffs

Last week, with extremely short notice, CUPE was advised by the Pallister government about their desire to reduce the cost of so-called “non-essential” public sector workforce by 10-30 per cent. Unions and employers were initially informed about the plan through a provincial news release.

The workforce reduction will not apply to essential workers in areas like health care, child care, K-12 teaching and certain other public services and utilities – but it is alarming news from our government in the midst of the crisis of our generation. To do this, they are asking government departments and agencies to submit plans that cut workforce spending by 10%-30%.

The Manitoba Federation of Labour, CUPE, and our union friends in the Partnership to Defend Public Services attended a meeting on April 14th to discuss the request from government.

The government has presented two main options to avoid full layoffs of individual employees:

  1. Implement work-sharing agreements where “non-essential” staff would have their work week reduced to as few as two days per week and receive Employment Insurance for lost workdays. This work-sharing would have to be workplace-wide or possibly department-wide, unless positions are “essential”. The EI maximum of $54,000 per year would apply to income under this option.
  2. Expand employees’ ability to participate in a Voluntary Reduced Work Week. Under such a scenario, employees would be allowed to take up to 35 days of absence without pay. Approved VRWs may be treated as regular working days for pension, group life, and accumulated service calculations.

The work-sharing option is only possible if the federal government deems your employer eligible. Currently, the Federal Government has deemed Government Business Enterprises eligible (such as crown corporations and certain independent, revenue generating agencies) and Universities, but core government services such as the civil service and K-12education are not. The Federal Government would need to expand program eligibility further to include these last groups.

The government has so far been unable to say which public services they believe are non-essential. At the same time, the government has also made it clear that they will start making decisions on these matters very soon. The government has requested options for cost reductions by as early as Tuesday, April 21th. The provincial government has new powers under emergency legislation and could pass orders to require workforce reductions. CUPE is calling on the provincial government to respect our collective agreements.

CUPE Manitoba has serious concerns about these proposals, and some are worse than others. We are working towards the best solutions to the financial pressures of COVID-19, options that keep the public sector working. We want to keep doing our part to support health care and other public services that are so important and to work towards a collective social and economic recovery.

Across Manitoba, we are seeing the difference that public service workers are making in our communities. We know that quality public services are essential for all Manitobans – in normal times, and in these unprecedented and extremely challenging times, too.

The government’s job during a crisis is to demonstrate leadership, keep people safe, and make sure people can pay their bills and put food on the table. Cutting services and laying people off isn’t the answer. These measures reduce the government’s ability to respond and support people, and further shrinks the economy and the tax base.

We know this is creating more anxiety in your life during an already overwhelming time for all of us. We know that members have mortgages, rent, utilities and other bills to pay, and that a forced reduction in hours or days of work could create a personal crisis for you.

Please let us know how this might affect you – we would like to have stories and concerns and questions to share with management as we continue to look for answers. (We will keep your identity confidential.)

Protecting the jobs and livelihoods of our members and our communities is one of our top priorities, and we are working hard to avoid layoffs and mandatory workforce reductions across our provinces.

CUPE is here with you, and for you. Please contact your local CUPE executives if you have questions or concerns, and we’ll do everything we can to support you.

Manitoba budget fails to protect Manitoba families. More funding needed today – CUPE

WINNIPEG – The 2020 Manitoba budget does little to ensure the public health funding that will be
needed to properly contain the coronavirus now, and in the future – says CUPE Manitoba, the
province’s largest union.

“Public Health should be getting a huge cash infusion to staff up for public health task forces,
immunization clinics, and ensuring enforcement of quarantine: instead this government is cutting
public health during a time of its most dire need,” says Abe Araya, President of CUPE Manitoba.
“This government is more focused on cutting taxes for ideological reasons rather than fully
supporting the health and well-being of Manitoba families.”

CUPE is concerned that the reduction of the PST to 6%, and the reduction in the payroll tax will
further strangle the province’s ability to adequately fund our public services.

“We need to be investing heavily in our education and health care systems, especially now,”
added Araya. “The only people in Manitoba who think cutting public health spending at a time
like this are members of the Premier’s Cabinet.”

Highlights of the budget include:

• Cuts to public health programs
• Cuts to post-secondary grants Frozen grants to school divisions
• Well-below inflation increases in funding to health care
• $318 million increase in Federal Transfers
• $300 million set aside in a rainy-day fund

“This government continues to cut taxes and set aside money in a rainy-day fund, while cutting
health care, education, and other public services, and freezing the wages of workers on the frontline
of the COVID-19 crisis. Our message to Premier Pallister is this: “It’s raining!” says Araya.

CUPE also wants to ensure that this government properly staffs personal care homes, hospitals
and primary care sites, especially as additional demand is placed on our health care system.

Critical health care support staff, such as those who work in laundry and housekeeping, should
be commended for their role in maintaining sanitary conditions for health care to occur in, helping
to slow the transmission of the virus.

Changes to Manitoba’s Public Services Sustainability Act continue to undermine fair collective bargaining – CUPE

On October 7th the Pallister government introduced Bill 2, an amendment to the current Public Services Sustainability Act, commonly known as the “wage freeze” Bill.

The government continues to limit wage increases through legislation, as well as other monetary items that would otherwise be negotiated through free collective bargaining.

“This legislation continues to interfere in free collective bargaining, by legislating wage limits, rather than allowing employers and workers to negotiate”, says Gord Delbridge, President of CUPE Manitoba, the province’s largest union and partner in the multi-union group currently challenging the government in court.

“Why is this government so afraid of getting to the bargaining table and negotiating a fair deal?”

Amendments to the act gives government more authority to make decisions behind the closed door of the Cabinet table, rather than through meaningfully at the bargaining table.

“Rather than coming to the table and participating in traditional negotiations, which have seen thousands of successful contracts bargained between employers and unions in Manitoba over numerous governments, the Pallister government continues to come up with new confusing schemes”, said Delbridge.

“This new act doesn’t make bargaining easier for anyone, and continues to be unfair and unconstitutional”.

Link to full amendment.

Notes:

  • The Public Services Sustainability Act has not yet been enacted.
  • Amendments to the act include potentially shortening the “sustainability period”, but also create numerous limitations and barriers for that to happen.
  • The Act could also undermine current awards determined by arbitration, as well as provides authority to the Minister to interfere with tentative agreements between employers and unions.
  • The amendments to this act do not address union concerns about free and democratic collective bargaining.
  • Government says that this will make collective bargaining more flexible – but in reality, it provides further restrictions and attempts to control the outcome.

Manitoba Hydro workers raise red flags on Hydro privatization after letter issued by CEO

WINNIPEG – A letter posted this morning on Manitoba Hydro’s digital staff bulletin board by Hydro President and CEO Jay Grewal has raised red flags for Hydro employees.

The letter announces Manitoba Hydro’s engagement with consultant PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) to conduct a new review of Hydro’s operating model.

The first phase of the review will be rushed over an eight week period, and includes examining Hydro’s “structure, processes, governance, metrics, and culture”.

“This new review is incredibly concerning,” says Michelle Bergen, President of CUPE Local 998, representing 950 Hydro employees.

“Pallister is hiring yet another private consultant, and this time they are looking at Hydro’s public operating model and governance, which will certainly look at privatization”.

Pallister appointed Jay Grewal as CEO of Manitoba Hydro in February. Grewal has a track record of privatizing parts of B.C. Hydro.

“All the ducks are lining up in a row for Hydro privatization,” says Mike Velie, Assistant Business Manager for IBEW 2034, representing 2,600 Hydro employees. “This surprise review will undoubtedly result in recommendations to break up and privatize parts of Manitoba Hydro”.

The letter also notes that the review will not be looking at staff reductions, since Pallister already mandated major cuts to staffing. However the letter has no indication that the review will not recommend privatization or contracting out of Hydro work.

“We need Pallister to answer one simple question: will his government privatize all or parts of Manitoba Hydro?”, said Bergen. “We have not heard him give a clear answer to this critical question”.

Earlier this week a Probe Research survey, sponsored by the Winnipeg Free Press and CTV Winnipeg, showed that Manitobans are strongly opposed to Hydro Privatization.

“The public has the right to know Pallister’s plan for Hydro,” concludes Velie.

Pallister’s Greatest Hits on Working Families

The provincial election campaign has begun! Brian Pallister is breaking the rules on election dates and forcing a snap election one year earlier than set in law.

The good news? On September 10, we will have the chance to get rid of Brian Pallister and his anti-labour government, whose cuts and policies have been a disaster for working families in Manitoba.

The Pallister government has done so much damage to working families in three years that it can sometimes be hard to keep track, so we have compiled a Top 10 list to refresh your memory:

  1. Attacked collective bargaining:

Manitoba workers have the right to negotiate fair contracts with their employers. But in 2017 the Pallister government attacked that right for 120,000 public-sector workers by bringing in heavy-handed legislation that sets wage freezes in law for two years, followed by minimal increases of 0.75 and 1 per cent in the third and fourth years of a contract. Manitoba’s labour movement is taking the Pallister government to court over this unconstitutional legislation, but voting them out on September 10 would be a much quicker way to get rid of this law and let Manitoba’s dedicated public-sector workers get back to the bargaining table.

  1. Made it harder to join a union by eliminating card check:

Brian Pallister and his government can’t stand unions because they know that unions are one of the best checks against their plans for cuts and privatization of services. Time and time again, they have shown they are firmly on the side of their corporate friends, not working people. That is why one of their first acts in government was to make it harder for workers to decide to join unions by signing a union card. By getting rid of the card check system, Pallister is forcing workers to vote two times, instead of just one, allowing more time for employer interference and intimidation.

  1. Created total chaos in our health care system:

Health care is on the minds of many voters these days, and for good reason – the Pallister government has created chaos in our health care system, through cuts, emergency room closures, and their unwillingness to listen to front-line workers who know how the system works. They’ve closed both the Concordia and Seven Oaks ERs well before originally planned because they no longer had enough staff to operate. And health care workers are facing mounting stress due to mandatory overtime, unsafe staffing levels, and this government’s misguided plans. Look at the damage they’ve done to health care in just three years, imagine what they with another four. Let’s not give them the chance.

  1. Legislated the minimum wage at poverty levels:

No one should work full-time and live in poverty. But that is exactly what is happening to thousands of workers right now in Manitoba, because the Pallister government is keeping the minimum wage at poverty levels.

Contrary to the myths, most minimum wage workers are adults, and the majority are women. Thousands of families are forced to make tough choices between paying the rent and buying groceries, because our minimum wage isn’t enough to allow people to make ends meet, even with a full-time job.

Pallister has put Manitoba’s poverty-level minimum wage in legislation, and capped any increases to a maximum of inflation, guaranteeing that minimum wage earners will never reach or exceed the poverty line.

  1. Weakened workplace health and safety protections:

All workers deserve to be safe on the job, and to come home to their families and loved ones. That’s why our labour movement has pushed to make Manitoba’s workplace safety and health laws some of the strongest in the country. But the Pallister government is weakening health and safety protections instead of making them stronger.

They’ve made deep cuts to workplace health and safety enforcement, meaning there will be less focus on keeping people safe on the job, and they have eliminated the minister’s advisory council on health and safety and the Brandon and District Worker Advocacy Office.

Pallister has ignored the advice of labour (and even business) and set the minimum working age at 13 years old, meaning kids can get permits to work in Manitoba a full-year younger than kids in Ontario and Saskatchewan can.

He’s lowered the standards for hearing testing on the job, even though hearing loss is one of the most common workplace injuries. And his government is even talking about watering down Manitoba’s standards for protecting workers from harmful chemicals.

  1. Failed working families looking for child care:

Parents are facing unnecessary stress because affordable, high quality child care is so hard to find. This makes it harder for parents – especially women – to get back to paid work, and it hurts our economy.

The Pallister government is failing hard-working families:

  • Wait lists are at record highs, and convenient child care options are hard to find.
  • Child care fees are putting a squeeze on household budgets.
  • Poor wages and working conditions are making it difficult to recruit and retain early childhood educators.
  1. Privatization of public services:

We all know how much Conservatives love to privatize public services. If there is a chance to line the pockets of their corporate friends, they’ll jump at the opportunity.

Despite evidence that privatizing air services will compromise safety and quality, the Pallister government has privatized provincial water bombers and the Lifeflight air ambulances.

Now, they are looking at privatizing more liquor sales and have even brought in two architects of the privatization of BC Hydro to look at what they can do to Manitoba Hydro. We can’t give the Pallister government the chance to privatize Manitoba Hydro like the Conservatives did with MTS.

  1. Unfair labour practice at the University of Manitoba:

In 2016, the Pallister government directed the University of Manitoba to commit unfair labour practices in its negotiations with the University of Manitoba Faculty Association. As a result, the Manitoba Labour Board ordered the U of M to pay up to $2.4 million in damages and issue a formal apology for its actions.

While UMFA came to the table prepared to work out a fair deal that focused on providing the best possible education to U of M students, the University followed the Pallister government’s orders and forced faculty out on the picket lines, disrupting student schedules, and postponing exams.

  1. Underfunded education:

The Pallister government has continually underfunded our K – 12 education system, meaning there are not enough resources for students and teachers. Class sizes are going up, and it is only a matter of time before the Pallister government sets its sights on education restructuring, doing the same to schools and education workers as it has to hospitals and health care workers.

They are also making life more expensive for post-secondary students and their families by jacking up tuition while cutting back on funding to universities and colleges. You can’t build opportunities for young people here at home by putting education and training opportunities out of reach for working families.

  1. Changed election laws to benefit Conservatives:

The Pallister government has made a number of undemocratic changes to Manitoba’s election laws to help their party. They have made it harder to vote for Manitoba citizens who do not appear on the voters list and who already face a number of barriers to obtaining government issued identification.

They have restricted the ability for concerned groups and stakeholders to raise issues during the campaign period. Election campaigns are a time to raise the things that are important to working families, to Manitobans. We believe that before Manitobans go to the polls, they should have an idea where all parties stand on the issues that matter to them.

Finally, the Pallister government has made it easier for their wealthy friends to influence the political system by raising the personal donation limit to $5,000 and gutting public financing for all political parties.

A healthy democracy is based on fairness and equality. Unfortunately, Brian Pallister only makes decisions in the interest of his party and its corporate friends.

Pallister’s future plans:

The Pallister government has already signalled it will be making more decisions that will hurt working families if they are re-elected.

This summer, they announced that they want to make changes to Manitoba’s pension system but they will be keeping them secret from Manitobans until after the election. Proposals like loosening unlocking provisions and ending the long-established principle of universal participation appear to be on the table.

It is also troubling that they made this announcement right before they called an early election. Their refusal to provide any details through the tabling of legislation means that Manitobans will not get to see the specifics of their plan for pensions before they cast their ballots this fall. All workers deserve to be able to retire from working life with dignity and financial security. Voters should have a clear understanding of the Pallister government’s plan for their pensions before they go to the polls.

They have also pledged to bring back legislation to ban Project Labour Agreements (PLAs) if they win re-election. We know that PLAs deliver high quality and good wages that support local jobs. These agreements have been used on major infrastructure projects since the 1960s, consistently delivering great value for Manitobans. But Brian Pallister and his government refuse to let the facts get in the way of their ideological agenda.

In Solidarity,
Kevin Rebeck

President of the Manitoba Federation of Labour

A message for CUPE members, August 11, 2019

 

CUPE supports calls to repeal Bill 29.

CUPE members and leadership rallied yesterday to support the Public Service Alliance of Canada’s call to repeal Bill 29, the legislations requiring representation votes in the Healthcare Sector.

 

CUPE has long shared the PSAC’s position that these votes throw our healthcare system into even greater levels of chaos than the Conservative government has already created, and puts politics ahead of patient care.

Manitoba Government Kills PowerSmart – CUPE 998

The final nail in the coffin of Manitoba’s beloved energy efficiency program has officially been struck by the Pallister government. With the announcement of Efficiency Manitoba today, Manitoba Hydro’s PowerSmart program is set to wind down.

“The Pallister government’s carving out of Manitoba Hydro’s energy efficiency program is simply bad policy,” says Chris Mravinec, President of CUPE Local 998 representing Manitoba Hydro employees, including the PowerSmart program.

“PowerSmart is already an excellent program that has deep roots in the community as well as direct access to Hydro information to help Manitobans find energy savings, its hard to believe this new Crown will be able to offer anything new that PowerSmart isn’t already doing.”

CUPE Local 998 is calling on Manitoba Hydro and Efficiency Manitoba to ensure that PowerSmart employees are fairly transitioned into the new Crown.

“PowerSmart employees have the experience, the networks, and the know-how to help Manitobans save energy,” says Mravinec. “We hope the government will keep these workers doing what they do best, but today’s announcement does little to reassure PowerSmart employees that a plan is in place.”

The government has not made a clear case for why creating a new Crown Corporation for energy efficiency is necessary, especially when PowerSmart is already so successful. It has also not provided details on exactly how the Crown will be staffed, financed, or how programs will be delivered.

“This is another example of the government ignoring reason and pushing their agenda forward without details,” said Mravinec.

“Countless industry experts have made submissions and presentations to the Minister of Crown Services on why PowerSmart should remain part of Hydro, why hasn’t the Minister listened?”

In January 2017, CUPE 998 commissioned a poll that found 94% of Manitobans supported PowerSmart and 78% felt that PowerSmart should remain part of Manitoba Hydro.

CUPE Local 998 represents over 1,100 members at Manitoba Hydro