Like many of our members, the CUPE 998 Executive is sensitive to any statements made to the public about our wages, working conditions, or negotiations. It appears recent media reports have taken some liberties with statements made by President and CEO Kelvin Shepherd and we are also aware of the recent media report on the Conservative government’s warning not to expect easy negotiations. Both of these are concerning and we would like to provide clarification of the facts as we understand them.
To our knowledge, there have been no announcements made about layoffs in discussions and press releases within or outside of the company. Layoffs were not proposed in any discussions we have had with the Corporation. What has been made clear is that “aggressive attrition” is required to help address the current financial situation and that there are about 900 employees in a position to retire right now. We do know that continuing with attrition and vacancy management will increase the workload and stress for our members. It also creates an environment which makes contracting out more attractive. All of this brings significant challenges to us but rest assured we will remain vigilant and prepared to face these challenges.
Another curious item is today’s’ Winnipeg Free Press article where Finance Minister Cameron Friesen warns unions of the difficult negotiations to come. In the article he infers that a high percentage acceptance of contract ratification votes by public sector union members means wage settlements have been too generous. In my opinion this is not an appropriate metric and I question how the figure of 95% was arrived at since most unions don’t release ratification vote numbers. This is clearly posturing on the government’s part for upcoming negotiations with all public sector unions. A fact check shows that the average negotiated wage increase at Manitoba Hydro over the last 12 years is 2.23%. This is hardly a number that is exorbitant and generally aligns with the Manitoba inflation rate and private sector increases over the same period. So sounding the warning bell for public sector workers at this time appears to be out of synch with reality. Although the company’s short term financial footing is under fire, running a public utility is a long game and the books should not be balanced on the back of workers.
We are committed to protect our members’ jobs and negotiate a fair wage increase. We will not let media rhetoric and sabre-rattling by government change our position or weaken our resolve. We will continue to fight to protect our members’ livelihoods using all available means. After 50 years, this may be time we are tried the most. Now is the time to stand together and stand up for each other.