Nova Scotia

Halifax Water racks up $2M security bill during labour disruption

A Freedom of Information request shows Halifax Water racked up nearly $1 million in security costs the first month of its labour disruption. The utility confirmed costs were the same in the second month.

Milton, Ont. firm installed cameras, accompanied management staff to work sites

Halifax Water spent about $2 million on security during a nearly two-month labour disruption that began in May. (Molly Segal/CBC)

Halifax Water spent $2 million on security during the nearly two-month labour disruption that began in May, CBC News has learned.

The bill for first month of a recent work stoppage cost the utility nearly a million dollars, a Freedom of Information request revealed.

"It's a big system, it's a lot of infrastructure and so those costs are high," said utility spokesman Jim Vibert.  "It's reasonable when you consider it provided security for the water system — a very, very large water system — for about a third of the population of this province as well as wastewater treatment facilities."

CBC News asked for a breakdown of the costs associated with hiring AFiMaC Canada, a company based out of Milton, Ont. that bills itself as strike security experts.

The bulk of the money spent in the first month, $724,092.00, went to wages followed by $81,240.00 for security vehicles. Lodging for the security team of about 60 people a day cost $65,667.60. $32,515.00 was spent on meals for a total of $996,054.06.

'Emotional' picket line crossings

Vibert says the breakdown would be similar for the second month of the dispute.

Along with guarding Halifax Water facilities, he says the security company installed cameras at key locations throughout the city and accompanied service vehicles dispatched for maintenance and repair work.

About 100 supervisory and management staff operated the utility while 335 employees represented by CUPE walked picket lines.  

"There were emotional crossings of the picket line. There were some incidents of workers that had to come to work who felt frightened, intimidated and security relieved that, and there were other incidents where security insured that the facilities and the infrastructure was kept in good working order."

Union silent on security bill

The main sticking point in the dispute was proposed changes to pension plans.  At the time, union leaders criticized the utility for bringing in the high-priced security. But Vibert defended the decision.

"Payroll reductions significantly more than offset the security costs and remember Halifax Water did not ask for a labor disruption. It wasn't their choice."

The union declined to comment on the numbers obtained by CBC News. One union leader back on the job said speaking out now could lead to disciplinary action.

The union also says its members are trying to get back to some sense of normalcy at work.

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About the Author

Bob Murphy

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Bob Murphy is an award-winning journalist who has worked as a CBC News reporter in the Maritime provinces for more than two decades. He has investigated everything from workplace deaths to unsolved crimes and government scandals.

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