‘We’re here for the long run’

Crown employees wave to a passing vehicle while walking the picket lines outside the SaskPower offices in the south end of Prince Albert. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

Daniel Frenette is in this for the long haul.

As of 12:01 a.m. Friday morning, Frenette and nearly 5,000 other Crown employees are on strike after rejecting the latest bargaining proposal from the provincial government.

Frenette, a SaskEnergy employee, says he’s prepared to do whatever it takes to wait out the government, and so is his family.

“We’re cleaning out the freezer. We’re using our gardening skills and what have you. We’re going to make it happen,” he explains. “We’re just going to have to sacrifice, and we’re here for the long run.”

That sacrifice extends to transportation. Instead of driving his vehicle into Prince Albert to walk the picket line, Frenette took his bike. It was a nearly two-hour trip from his home near Round Lake, northwest of Prince Albert.

“I’m 100 per cent optimistic,” he says. “We’re going to make this happen right to the end.”

Frenette is nearing retirement. He’s had a great experience working at SaskEnergy, but he worries about the younger employees who will replace him.

Living expenses, like housing, have only gone up, he explains, and he doesn’t think the government’s offer of a five per cent wage increase over five years will help.

“I’m at the tail end of my career, but I think it’s important to stand up for our youth,” he says. “I bought my house for maybe only $100,000 and now the youth here are expected to spend up to $300,000 for a house. That doesn’t come cheap.”

Union representatives are just as eager to dig their heels in and wait out the government. Unifor president Jerry Dias said some agreements have been expired for two years or more while they try to find common ground.

Unifor’s most recent offer was a two per cent wage increases in 2019, 2020 and 2021. They also offered to accept lump sum payments instead of a base wage increase in the expired years of their contract.

“Contract negotiations must be about give and take—but the Moe government’s refusal to bargain fairly is driving Saskatchewan towards a major service disruption,” Dias said in a media release. “Unifor has presented creative offers to find a path forward, but the government seems intent on forcing a strike.”

Dias also criticized the government for taking a 3.5 per cent wage increase in 2018, while denying the same to crown workers.

“Given the healthy cost of living increases to MLA salaries, Crown workers are being more than reasonable in their position,” he said.

Workers from SaskTel, SaskEnergy, DirectWest, SecurTek,  SaskPower, SaskWater and the Water Security Agency are all on strike, however some are still on the job to make sure essential services remain in place.

Finance Minister Donna Harpauer thanked those workers for the decision, but remained steadfast that a five per cent increase over five years was a strong offer.

“We continue to believe that strike action is not in the best interests of crown corporations, employees or the people of Saskatchewan,” Harpauer said in the statement. “We believe that the employer offer of five per cent over five years respects the hard work of crown employees while balancing the fiscal reality of our province, and we remain hopeful that an agreement can be reached at the bargaining table in good faith.”

Prince Albert Carlton MLA and Crown Investments Minister Joe Hargrave was unavailable for an interview on Friday due to caucus meetings.