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Hundreds at rally call for higher wages for striking workers at MPI, Manitoba land titles office

Hundreds of public service workers and their supporters rallied on the steps of the Manitoba Legislature Wednesday to repeat calls for better wages for striking workers from two public agencies.

About 1,700 Manitoba Public Insurance workers, most in Winnipeg, have been on strike since Monday after failing to reach an agreement on a new contract during a weekend of negotiations with the Crown corporation. 

In addition, dozens of unionized provincial land titles office workers began job action in July. The workers with both agencies are represented by the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union.

Cheryl Santilli, an MPI employee of about 10 years, told the crowd Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson has failed to recognize the work the Crown corporation’s staff do every day.

A woman with blonde hair in a navy blue shirt that reads 'Catch up, keep up.'
‘This fight is not just about wages and benefits,’ MPI contact centre agent Cheryl Santilli said at Wednesday’s rally. ‘It’s about livelihoods that have been put into jeopardy when fairness is not exercised.’ (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

“She values the business partners and her cabinet much more than us, the employees that make her look really damn good when the financials come out,” Santilli said. 

“Pay us what we deserve: fair wages and a chance to continue to live a standard of living that provides a roof over our heads, food on our tables and a basis of everyday life every person deserves.”

Lee-Ann Tranmer, who works for MPI, accused the premier of “attempting to use misinformation to turn the public against us.”

“Every Manitoba Public Insurance employee that I’ve spoken to wants to be at work serving Manitobans. No one wants a strike,” said Tranmer.

“This is 100 per cent because of Premier Strefanson giving herself over a three per cent [raise], and her MLAs, and then mandate the workers to two per cent.”

The MPI strike began one day after the end of a weeks-long Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries strike. On Sunday, unionized members with that Crown corporation voted to accept a 12 per cent wage increase over four years.

Several speakers at Wednesday’s rally made reference to that deal in arguing that workers with MPI deserve more than what’s so far been on offer.

Crowds gather on the steps of a government legislature as part of an ongoing strike.
Attendees at the rally called for better wages for unionized employees on strike at MPI and the provincial land titles office. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union president Kyle Ross said the weeks-long strike by Liquor & Lotteries workers pressured the province into lifting a “restrictive wage mandate.” 

“Now, you’d think that Premier Stefanson realizes that eight per cent over four years wasn’t going to cut it for liquor workers — why would it work for MPI workers?” Ross said.

From 2020 to 2022, Ross said the public insurer’s CEO received a wage increase of 7.9 per cent, while its chief financial officer received six per cent.

“During that time, MPI workers were given a wage freeze by this government,” he said. “After years of falling further behind, our members just want to catch up.”

He said MPI workers have been offered two per cent annual wage increases over four years. Workers will get to vote on that offer in the coming weeks, he said.

Siobhán Vipond, executive vice-president of the Canadian Labour Congress, told people at the rally that the “cost of living crisis is being felt by everyone.”

“They think we’re going to accept these second-rate offers and that is not going to happen,” Vipond said.

Crowds gather on the steps of a government legislature as part of an ongoing strike.
Crowds packed the stairs that lead up to the Manitoba Legislature on Wednesday in ongoing calls for better wages for workers, including Manitoba Public Insurance workers who began a strike on Monday. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Stacy Gosman, a worker with the provincial land titles office who has been on strike for weeks, said starting that job action wasn’t an easy choice.

“We are about 70 unionized members, and we know each other by name,” said Gosman. “We are a close-knit family and therefore we know first-hand the impact a strike would have on our members.”

Those unionized workers are employed by Teranet Manitoba — the service provider for Manitoba’s land titles system and personal property registry. About half of the 70 unionized workers began a full strike earlier this month following other job action, such as refusing overtime. Most  are based in Winnipeg, but others are at offices throughout western Manitoba.

They have been without a contract since March 2022.

Liquor & Lotteries workers “stood up and had their voices heard,” Gosman said. “We are happy they got a fair and reasonable offer. Now, it’s our turn.”

After Wednesday’s rally, MGEU issued a statement saying its roughly 100 members at St. Boniface University — including professors and professionals such as librarians — had reached a tentative deal of 12 per cent wage increases spread over four years, with some members receiving as much as 13.5 per cent in increases.

Those workers, who had been without a contract since August 2020, will vote on the offer next Tuesday, MGEU said.

“The premier’s so-called ‘line in the sand’ appears to have washed away for the second time in a week,” Ross said in a statement. “That’s good news for workers who need to catch and keep up with the rising cost of living.”

A spokesperson for the provincial government said bargaining is continuing.

“We remain hopeful that an agreement will be reached for the benefit of employees and all Manitobans,” the spokesperson said in an email to CBC.

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