Manitoba premier blames politics, union for Crown corporation strike

WINNIPEG — Workers at Manitoba's auto insurance Crown corporation went on strike Monday, as Premier Heather Stefanson criticized union leaders for rejecting a wage offer.

About 1,700 workers at Manitoba Public Insurance walked off the job after negotiations on a new collective agreement stalled.

Picket lines were set up at MPI offices across the province and the corporation suspended some non-essential services such as driver testing.

Officials at the corporation said they have offered wage increases of two per cent each year for four years, plus other enhancements that total up to 17 per cent in increases.

The Manitoba Government and General Employees Union has said the 17 per cent figure is inaccurate because it includes some non-wage benefits andincreases available to only some workers.

The union said its members deserve raises similar to recent ones granted to provincial politicians, which were more than three per cent annually.

Premier Heather Stefanson took to social media to say her government could not say yes to the union's demands.

"They're demanding increases double the size of health-care workers. That's where I draw the line," Stefanson said in a video posted to X, formerly known as Twitter.

"Because it's time to stop playing politics, start binding arbitration and get back to serving Manitobans today."

Union president Kyle Ross said Stefanson was the one playing politics.

"Why is she so obsessed with keeping wages for working families as low as possible when she and her cabinet ministers are taking so much more for themselves?" Ross said.

"All we're working for is a fair wage for our workers."

The union would like to see negotiations continue before resorting to arbitration, he added.

Monday's walkout followed the settlement on the weekend of a strike at Crown-owned Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries that had started July 19. That walkout prompted the closure of government-run liquor stores and disrupted supplies to private vendors.

The liquor workers, also represented by the Manitoba Government and General Employees Union, ratified a new deal on the weekend that includes wage hikes of 12 per cent over four years.

MPI advised the public Monday that while the strike is on, licence renewals and insurance payments can continue to be done through brokers.

The corporation's call centre remained open for people reporting personal injury claims, non-driveable collision claims and total-theft claims.

Customers reporting all other collision claims, including hail damage, were advised to go directly to a MPI-accredited repair shop.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 28, 2023

Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press