Strike averted at Manitoba Hydro as union reverses course overnight

The union for Manitoba Hydro workers says it has rescinded its general strike notice after a last-minute offer from the Crown corporation.

Strike initially called after union cited Hydro's 'unresponsiveness' to demand for final contract offer

A hydro tower against a blue sky.
A strike that was to take effect at midnight has been called off. (Travis Golby/CBC)

The union for Manitoba Hydro workers says it has rescinded its general strike notice after a last-minute offer from the Crown corporation.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2034, which represents over 2,300 electrical workers, had announced late Wednesday that its members would walk off the job at midnight.

The general strike was initially called due to Hydro's "unresponsiveness" to the union's demand for a final contract offer, IBEW spokesperson Michael Espenell told CBC News on Wednesday.

Hydro was given until 5 p.m. Wednesday to provide its final offer but did not meet that deadline.

But early Thursday morning, Espenell said a new contract offer came in and the union wants its members to vote on it before taking strike action.

He could not say when that vote would take place but did say members will be on the job pending its results.

Some workers started rotating strikes last week after IBEW 2034 rejected a contract offer from Hydro, following 28 months of unsuccessful negotiations.

Manitoba Hydro told CBC News at the time that it had offered IBEW members a three-year contract, with a 0.75 per cent wage increase in Year 3 retroactive to Jan. 1, 2021.

Last fall, the province asked IBEW workers to accept a two-year wage freeze.

Michael Espenell, business manager from IBEW Local 2034, said last week that workers are seeking guarantees for pensions, reassurances there won't be layoffs and increases in benefits over time. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

The proposed contract promised no IBEW employees would be laid off should their positions be eliminated as a result of contracting out work normally performed by employees for the 2021-22 fiscal year, Hydro said.

In light of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hydro's proposal also committed to a one-time allocation of 80 hours in sick leave for IBEW front-line workers who worked at least 30 per cent of their time in the field in the 2020 fiscal year, the Crown corporation said.

"From the get-go, we haven't really asked for anything substantive. We haven't asked for anything above cost of living. What they've proposed is rollbacks over the whole duration of the contract," Espenell said Wednesday evening.

The last time IBEW workers at Hydro went on strike was 2009, and it lasted several days.

The union represents most of Hydro's front-line field employees, such as workers at generating stations and on transmission lines.

With files from Jessica Piché, Ian Froese and Nick Frew