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January 2014

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Nova Scotia Utility Threatens Outsourcing

Nova Scotia Power's announcement that it was considering outsourcing at least 250 utility jobs is being criticized by workers and consumer activists as a threat to good jobs and reliable service.

"It seems mighty mean-spirited for NSP to contemplate contracting out the work of people who do dangerous work in the wind, rain, snow and sleet to keep us all powered up," wrote Chronicle-Herald columnist Claire Mcilveen.

The jobs represent a variety of positions, from linemen and meter readers to inside plant workers. Local 1928, which represents Nova Scotia Power employees, is asking Premier Stephen McNeil to investigate whether the layoffs would negatively affect the utility's reliability.

The utility has already laid off more than 20 workers.

The positions would be filled by out-of-province contractors, which would likely raise costs and delay response time, said Halifax Local 1928 Business Manager Jeff Richardson. "When the power goes out at three o'clock in the morning, who's going to restore the power?" Richardson said at a rally protesting the cuts. "A contractor who comes from out of the province?"

Richardson says the labour market for linemen in the province is tight enough already, making laying off existing utility workers a particularly damaging move for Nova Scotia.

Outsourcing on the magnitude that NSP has projected amounts to a direct attack on the union. "If successful in contracting out all of this work, it would reduce the union membership at Nova Scotia Power to a token amount," says a statement on Local 1928's website.

Richardson says the company's threats are part of an effort to get the local to reopen the contract. Nova Scotia Power wanted to eliminate the pension plan for new hires during negotiations for the last contract — a demand Local 1928 refused.

"There are still trying to squeeze concession from us by threating our jobs," he said.

The utility is justifying the potential cuts by pleading poverty, saying profits are down. But last year it was revealed that four executives with NSP and the utility's parent company, Emera, earned more than $3 million in 2012, a 23-percent raise.

"If NSP must reduce its workforce or its payroll, it would be better advised to drop executive pay and spread the remaining grief throughout the company, rather than focusing on unionized workers," wrote Mcilveen.

Local 1928 is working with the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour to put pressure on lawmakers to take action.

"We're making as much noise as we can because this is a bad deal for Nova Scotia workers and consumers," Richardson said.


Union members protest Nova Scotia Power's threat to outsource most of their workers.

Republished with permission from The Halifax Herald Ltd.