As the expiration of the NDP’s long reign over Manitoba approaches by way of the upcoming April 2016 provincial election, collective agreements for unions the NDP relies on to keep it in power are up for renegotiation. With few exceptions unions – but not all their members – support the NDP. The party’s strategy is to slow down and stick-handle negotiations so that the cost of the settlements will not be known until after the election.
The long list of collective agreements overdue for renegotiation include the Manitoba Government Employees Union (MGEU); unions and associations representing government lawyers and engineers, physicians, child care and support workers; and the IBEW. While professionals, such as physicians, and the skilled trades often are not NDP supporters, the NDP will still put on kid gloves; service disruptions ahead of elections aren’t good for governments.
With the NDP government hopelessly conflicted, predicting eventual good results for the members of the unions and associations negotiating with them is a solid bet. The stars are aligned in their favour.
The overall cost of the salaries, wages and benefits involved in bargaining are immense, representing by far the largest cost component of the provincial government’s budget. The government’s collective bargaining stance likely affects 150,000 workers – the provincial government is the largest paymaster in Manitoba by far. The results of the bargaining will not only impact the Province’s books, but will be a factor in upcoming labour and service bargaining by Crown corporations and agencies and services funded by government.
The weakness of the provincial government and general conditions bode well for eventual success for the unions, associations and agencies. The NDP, directly and,most recently indirectly through Manitoba Hydro, has further reduced its chances of holding down the cost of renewing the contracts by lavishing huge severance payments on ex-Selinger aides (most quickly hired by other NDP governments and parties) and providing incredibly high raises for Hydro executives. Worse, the government shows no interest in cutting back, regardless of ongoing deficit woes,
It matters little that many public servants already earn more than their private equivalents, have better employee benefits, and enjoy pensions that most private sector employees will never see. It matters even less that the government is drowning in debt, lacks the courage to throttle back spending to deal with its structural deficit, and has had its credit rating downgraded. Economic conditions outside the public sector are far from good.
The largest union locked in negotiations with the government is the 14,000-strong MGEU. This union has always supported the NDP, now in its hour of need. Former NDP Premier Doer once led the MGEU. The NDP now tries to wash its hands of its responsibility to deal with the union, leaving a three person arbitration panel to settle the matter. Its chair is Michael Werier, who also serves as Chairperson of the WCB, an agency currently involved in labour-leaning changes to its employer assessment model and implementing unwise and un-costed improved claim conditions for workers diagnosed as suffering from stress.
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