By Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — Some Manitoba Hydro workers went on strike Tuesday after their union said its members overwhelmingly rejected an offer from the Crown utility.
The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2034 notified Manitoba Hydro that workers would walk off the job in the afternoon.
The strike by about 2,300 workers is to last until Thursday.
The IBEW said in a news release that 88 per cent of members voted to reject a four-year contract proposal from the Crown utility that offered no pay increase for two years.
Manitoba Hydro spokesman Bruce Owen said in an email that the utility’s offer includes benefit improvements and extension of a “no-layoff” clause for the 2021-22 fiscal year.
Manitoba Hydro said it was assessing next steps to try to resolve the strike, but no decisions had been made.
The union accused Premier Brian Pallister of meddling in negotiations.
“We still think that there’s a deal to be made, but now it’s up to Hydro to make the next overture,” Mike Espenell, the union local’s business manager, said in a release Tuesday.
Before the strike announcement, Pallister said he would like to see negotiations result in a settlement. He said politicians should not take a side when it comes to bargaining.
“We’d all like to see a settlement that is agreeable to both sides.”
Last year, a court quashed a provincial government attempt to freeze the wages of more than 110,000 public-sector workers. It said the move was in violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The province had proposed a two-year wage freeze for each new collective agreement, followed by a pay increase of 0.75 per cent in the third year and one per cent in the fourth.
The public-sector unions that took the government to court said at that time that the bill was already affecting contract talks.
It was passed in the legislature but never proclaimed into law.
Owen said the utility has contingency plans to maintain electric service, although power restoration times could be slower due to the strike.
Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew said it’s unfortunate the two-year wage freeze is continuing despite the legislation being thrown out in court.
“That’s why it’s so disappointing to see that the premier’s interference is now putting those economic contributions at risk.”