April 2011

North of 49°
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Saskatchewan Crown Corporation Workers Unite for
Fair Contract

More than 9,000 employees at Saskatchewan's major Crown corporations have come together to coordinate bargaining and build unity in their campaign for a fair contract with the government.

The newly formed "Common Front" represents blue- and white-collar workers at SaskTel, SaskPower, SaskEnergy and SGI—government-owned provincial corporations—bringing together members of Regina Local 2067 and two other unions.

Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union Local 397 President Garry Hamblin told the Regina Leader-Post that "when we started comparing notes and sharing information amongst ourselves, we could see that there were a lot of common approaches being taken by management at various tables."

"It seemed like it was appropriate to come back with a similar response," he said.

Local 2067 represents more than 1,400 employees of SaskPower, the provincial utility. They have been working without a contract for more than a year.

Members overwhelmingly rejected management's demand for concessions in January—including restrictions on overtime benefits and refusal to address the company's inadequate benefits package and retirement plan—while their wage rate remains below average for utility workers in Western Canada.

Local 2067 Assistant Business Manager Jason Tibbs says employees are frustrated by management's insistence on slashing benefits and instituting restrictive work rules—all while SaskPower is posting healthy profits.

One of the company's most contentious demands calls for restricting the use of compensatory time off. Workers chose to forgo wage increases in exchange for compensatory time off during less flush times for the utility in the 1980s and many feel the company's efforts to take it away represents a betrayal.

"Our members took it in the wallet for years to help SaskPower make it through some tough times, so we expect it to keep their end of the bargain," Tibbs says.

The other Crown Corporations have also called for similar cutbacks.

"The government needs to take a close look at the money-making operations of the Crowns and act accordingly," says a statement from the coalition. "That means taking concessions off the table and getting serious about a decent wage for the people who make the Crowns so profitable."

Tibbs says the coalition serves as a clearinghouse of information to help the unions in their bargaining. "We are facing the same problems and we need to share ideas with each other," he says.

"All Crown corporation workers want is a fair contract," says Local 2067 Business Manager Neil Collins. "The companies are doing better than they have in years and it is only right that the men and women who make this province work get to share in some of their success."