NO GO FOR MOE Saskatchewan workers’ strike makes premier back down

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IT’S A NO GO FOR SCOTT MOE. A 17-day strike by around 5000 workers in six crown corporations in Saskatchewan forced the premier to do something he said he couldn’t do: he made a deal.

The details of the October 20 settlement will not be made public until the workers have voted on the terms negotiated by their union, Unifor. But, it is unlikely it will include the two-year wage freeze and one percent a year wage increase for five years Moe demanded.

The workers’ ask was for two percent raises every year for three years, plus lump sum payments for expired years of their contracts.

Just give us what’s fair

The workers pointed out a two percent annual raise would not even match the rate of inflation in Saskatchewan. They fixed on the fact that Moe and all the MLAs had just given themselves a 2.3 percent salary increase to strengthen their argument. Their rallying cry became “Good enough for Moe. Good enough for me.”

Public support for the workers ran high. An opinion poll showed 89 percent of the people of Saskatchewan agreed workers deserved raises to match inflation.

The strike included significant mobilizations to protest the government’s wage-cutting plans. On October 11, close to 2,000 striking workers and their supporters rallied in Regina’s Victoria Park. Taking aim at Moe’s pay packet, protesters shouted, “2.3: If it’s good enough for Moe, it’s good enough for me!”

As the strikers marched through downtown Regina, motorists honked their horns in support. Marchers stopped at all six headquarters of the crown corporations involved in the strike to chant slogans and drum up support.

On the other hand, the workers confronted provocations from the employers. SaskPower managers posted a notice on the eve of the strike openly calling on strikers to scab on their colleagues, declaring, “Legally, any individual can choose to cross a picket line and go to work. If they choose to do so, employees within the striking union can continue to work during the strike.”

Another major issue in dispute was outsourcing. The crown corporations have expanded their use of contractors over recent years in what amounts to sneaking privatization through the back door.

“This isn’t just about money,” explained Unifor spokesman Scott Doherty during the strike. “This is also about job security, this is about contracting out.”

Unifor secures a deal

The union offered to end the strike by proposing to send the wage dispute to binding arbitration. But the Moe government rejected this offer.

In the end, the resolve of the strikers paid off. On Sunday, October 20, Unifor announced it had reached a collective agreement containing fair wage increases for its members.

“Solidarity and the support from Unifor members at all six crowns along with those who joined our picket lines from across the province were key to achieving this agreement,” stated Unifor national president Jerry Dias. “The bargaining committees will be recommending members ratify the tentative agreement reached today.”

Putting a stop to outsourcing

Dias stated that union negotiators and company representatives made good progress on preventing future outsourcing. If the details of the final deal confirm protections against further outsourcing, it will be an important victory in a long-running anti-privatization battle in Saskatchewan.

Over the past decade, Sask Party governments under Brad Wall and Scott Moe have sold off some $1.1 billion in public assets and destroyed 1,200 public sector jobs as a result.