Bid to freeze Manitoba Hydro wages backfired, costing $14M, NDP says

The labour dispute stemming from the province’s failed attempt to freeze the wages of some Manitoba Hydro workers cost the power company millions of dollars, according to a document obtained by the Opposition NDP.

The document, obtained through a freedom of information request, pegs the cost of last spring’s two-month strike with 2,300 front-line workers at just over $14 million, including expenses like paying workers to replace those on strike.

NDP Leader Wab Kinew said the government’s demand of two-year wage freezes for publicly owned corporations forced the labour action, involving workers represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 2034.

But their wages increased anyway, against the government’s directive.

The union applied to the labour board to end the contract dispute. The board granted modest wage increases to the Hydro workers.

“Why did we go to a strike in the first place?” Kinew asked after question period on Friday.

It seems like that $14.3 million was “just a waste and was just a result of [former premier Brian Pallister] … and the PCs’ drive to always try and treat workers poorly, even though these are hard-working Manitobans who support families and communities,” Kinew said.

IBEW Local 2034 workers went on rotating strikes in March, following 28 months of unsuccessful negotiations.

The union said the province’s mandate for stagnant wages amounted to government interference, but the Progressive Conservative government maintained it had a responsibility to set bargaining guidelines.

Premier Kelvin Goertzen said Friday that “labour actions happen. There are costs that come with labour actions.”

“It is not in scale with the billions of dollars that were spent at Hydro by putting a hydro line on the wrong side of the province, against the advice of experts and Manitoba Hydro,” Goertzen said, alluding to the decision by the former NDP government to run the Bipole III transmission line down the west side of Lake Winnipeg.

In 2016, the then chair of Manitoba Hydro’s board called that a billion-dollar mistake.