Monday, October 05, 2009

Sometimes while I am driving around during the day, listening to the radio, I hear something that gives me reason to doubt my hearing. This was definitely the case the other day when I heard that the local members of the IBEW who are on strike against Manitoba Hydro were not receiving any strike pay. I had to see if this was real, and indeed it is. See the following report from the CBC. Apparently a decision was made some 25 years ago that it was unlikely that this union local would ever be involved in strike action, and so there were no assessments towards any future strike fund. To say this was short sighted is a great understatement. Every union can expect to be in a strike position at least sometime in the future. The friendliness, or lack thereof, of any government in power, temporarily, is no guarantee against such a situation. Neither is a temporary accommodation by management, allowed by huge profits, such as was the situation with Hydro. From a management point of view huge profits are an irresistible temptation to overspend (this is also the situation of Hydro), and when push comes to shove the employees are expected to take the hit. There is, of course, another lesson to be learned, that workers should keep a closer eye of their unions and always revisit old decisions that may not be appropriate for newer times. It's a hard lesson to learn, that the benefit of unions is directly proportional to the care and control that ordinary members exercise over them. Let things slide, and unfortunate things can happen...just as they have here. Here's the report.
Hydro strikers not being paid:
Nearly 3,000 unionized workers at Manitoba Hydro are walking the picket lines without strike pay.

Lauris Kleven, business manager with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), said workers knew going into the strike that they wouldn't be getting any money.

It was a decision the union made years ago, thinking they would never be in this position, he said.

"I think the people 25 years ago figured, 'Ah we won't worry about 25 years from now. Maybe not a wise decision, but there's nothing we can do about it now," he said.

Having no income will be financially difficult, but it's a case of short-term pain for long-term gain, workers hope.

"I am willing to do what it takes to get this resolved," said Debbie McNab, a lab technician with Hydro. "We have to stick together. Solidarity. You know, the whole bit."

'I am willing to do what it takes to get this resolved. We have to stick together. Solidarity. You know, the whole bit.'—Debbie McNab, Hydro lab technician

Johann Schreiner, who has worked for Hydro for 28 years as a technician, said he backs the union 100 per cent.

The financial obstacle, however, prompted him to take out a line of credit from his bank.

"It's going to hurt. It always does," he said. "The fact we are out here right now — nobody wins."

Another worker who commutes from outside of the city to take his turn on the picket line told CBC News he might have to go to a closer location because the cost of gas is going to have an impact on his wallet.

Groups of placard-carrying IBEW members have been striking in front of various Hydro facilities since Friday evening.

Nearly 3,000 electrical workers, truck drivers, transmission technicians, clerical and customer service employees walked off the job after conciliation talks between management and the union broke down.

The workers gave the corporation a 48-hour strike notice last Wednesday after rejecting the latest contract offer. They are seeking higher salaries and a shorter contract term.

It is the first strike to hit Hydro in the utility's 48-year history.

The union has a scheduled meeting with management at 1:30 p.m. Monday. The hope is that a new contract offer will be put on the table, said Kleven.

Two other unions in strike position
Another 1,600 workers, represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), as well as 300 more who belong to the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP), are also in negotiations with Hydro.

Members in both unions have already endorsed strike action.

Contracts between Hydro and all three unions have expired.

There are reports that representatives with CUPE and CEP met with Hydro management Monday morning but there has been no information released about those negotiations.
Meanwhile, over at the Winnipeg Wobbly Blog supporters of the Hydro workers are helping to build solidarity. Here's a recent post from there, reprinting picketing instructions from the IBEW website, promoting the Solidarity With Manitoba Hydro Workers Facebook site and offering the Wobbly Blog as a forum for strikers who may have something to say. The Wobbly Blog has also published an interesting item on the ins and outs of strike solidarity. Drop on over for a look.
Local: Manitoba Hydro on Strike: Instructions for Picketers and a callout from our Brothers and Sisters on the line:
From the IBEW site, here's some instructions for those going to picket:
Instructions to Picketers
1. Report to the picket captain at the start of your shift. They will be identified by red arm bands located on their left arms.
2. Picket signs or aprons must be worn at all times. These will be available through your picket captains .
3. Patrol your assigned work area.
4. Keep track of those who cross the picket lines and inform your picket captain.
5. Don’t engage in debate or arguments with those whom choose to cross the picket line. SCABS or strike breakers should be told how you feel.
6. Do not obstruct the general public.
7. Refer all media requests to the Local Union Office at 1-866-356-2034.
8. Keep the picket lines neat and please do not litter.
9. We expect nothing less than to have peaceful picket lines and for members to obey all applicable laws.
10. Picket captains have the authority to remove anybody causing a disturbance by fighting, uttering threats, being drunk, etc. If necessary the picket captain will contact local authorities to have the individual removed from the picket line or have charges laid. Illegal activities will not be tolerated by Manitoba Hydro or IBEW Local 2034.
11. Retired workers may be contacted by Manitoba Hydro to perform our work. If they show up to cross the picket line they shall be treated as any other SCAB.
12. In some larger locations port-a-potties will be provided.
The purpose of the picket line is to:
1) convey to the public that you are on strike.
2) to restrict Manitoba Hydro’s business.

You have a legal right to picket and inform the public. The public has the right to cross or not to cross your picket line. Do not worry about inconveniences that are created by your picket actions, they are legitimate.

We would also like to send out a call to all strikers on the line: We want to here from you! This blog is a blog for you, lets hear your experiences on the line. Drop us an email at:

Also remember to join the Solidarity with Manitoba Hydro workers! Facebook group.
In other news on the Hydro strike the two other unions that were in a strike position with Hydro management, CUPE and the CEP Union, have reportedly settled. Here's the report from the CBC. One can only imagine the resentment that this is likely to cause amongst Hydro workers, especially as the wage increase offered to CUPE and the CEP seems higher than that offered to the IBEW. The length of the contract, four years, however, is the same as that which the IBEW find unacceptable. This settlement is not yet a done deal as members of both the CEP and CUPE still have to vote on its ratification. As was said before on this blog, this is outstanding proof of the fact that strike action should have been coordinated amongst the three unions. did somebody say, "divide and conquer"?
Hydro strikes deal with 2 unions:
Manitoba Hydro has settled labour contracts with two out of three unions.

Hydro spokesman Glenn Schneider said Tuesday the Crown corporation has reached agreements with workers from the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers union (CEP) and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).

CEP represents Hydro's gas utility employees, while CUPE represents Hydro's office and support workers.

The deal, which is retroactive to Jan.1, 2009, means more than 1,500 Hydro employees will receive pay and benefit increases of 9.6 per cent over four years.

However, almost 3,000 striking workers from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers are still walking the picket line awaiting Hydro management's response to a proposal sent about 24 hours ago.

Schneider said the deals with CEP and CUPE are good news — and the corporation is optimistic the IBEW strike will soon conclude.

"We're delighted we're able to arrive at a settlement … and we're hopeful we can arrive at a settlement with IBEW," Schneider said.

Electrical workers, truck drivers, transmission technicians, and clerical and customer service employees in the IBEW walked off the job Friday night after rejecting the utility's latest contract offer. They are seeking higher salaries and a shorter contract term.

In a statement Tuesday, CEP local 681 said ratification meetings will be held in Brandon Wednesday night and in Winnipeg on Thursday. The union is recommending the contract be accepted.

CUPE is currently contacting members about when to hold a ratification vote.

No comments: