Almost 400 utility workers have been on strike in Ottawa as they fight for job security and safety. Hydro Ottawa workers, members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 636, report that they have not heard from Hydro Ottawa president Bryce Conrad in over a month and that Hydro Ottawa has walked away from the bargaining table.
Workers demand better safety conditions
Hydro Ottawa workers are fighting for safer working conditions. The IBEW reports that there are more grievances against Hydro Ottawa than any other employer in Ontario with workers represented by their union. Grievances include employers denying sick leave, denying health accommodations, unfair wage freezes, unequal pay for equal work, and forcing unpaid leave or vacation for female employees who lacked childcare during the pandemic despite being able to work from home.
Many Hydro Ottawa workers already face dangerous working conditions as they respond to the aftermath of severe weather events such as tornadoes and blizzards and often work 20 or more hours per day to keep community members safe. Yet workers report being placed with management with no experience in electrical work, and instances of being denied appropriate safety gear or rest time between shifts.
Real wage increases and secure work
While workers report that wages are not the main focus of the strike, low incentive to stay in the sector is contributing to safety concerns. High staff turnover and understaffing has resulted in a lack of expertise among management and other key decision makers. IBEW Local 636 reported that the number of Power Technicians in their workforce has decreased from over 100 to less than 70 in recent years despite increased need from an aging power grid and a marked increase in severe weather events.
Hydro Ottawa has also proposed contract stipulations that push for more contract workers which would further exacerbate turnover as these workers would have no medical benefits, no sick leave, and no pension. Meanwhile many employees have seen no updates to their benefits in ten years, with highly experienced employees getting no increased compensation over time. Workers are demanding wage increases of 16.6 percent compared to Hydro Ottawa’s offer of 13.6 percent over four years. Meanwhile Hydro Ottawa paid twenty million dollars in shareholder dividends to our city this year and Hydro Ottawa executives earned lavish salaries and bonuses.
Electrical workers fighting to ensure green jobs are good jobs
Hydro Ottawa workers create access to clean, green energy for all community members whether it be to power their electric stove, their light rail trip or their phone. Access to clean energy is a critical part of a transition away from fossil fuels and towards a liveable future.
However, for workers to remain in this field, or join in a transition away from the fossil fuel industry they need assurances their work will be protected. Safe work with adequate benefits, job security, adequate leave and pensions are a necessity to ensure a secure energy grid for future generations.
For those worried about the climate crisis, after a week of record-breaking temperatures across the globe, the fight for climate justice and workers’ justice is united as one in this strike.
Solidarity to win
As I write this article, a Tornado warning has been issued across the Ottawa region, which will likely result in power outages, emphasizing just how critical this work is for our community.
Workers and community members from Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation and Horizon Ottawa have shown up to the picket lines in solidarity, while Hydro Ottawa has lashed out against public support including blocking members of the public and the Ottawa District Labour Council on Twitter.
Ongoing solidarity is needed to win Hydro Ottawa workers a fair deal.
You can show up and support the picket line 7am-5pm daily at 2711 Hunt Club Road or call Mayor Mark Sutcliffe at 613-580-2496 and demand an end to the strike.
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