By Lynne Fernandez
For such a short article, the June 29th editorial: Do not further inflate Bipole III raises an impressive array of questions and concerns. First of all, according to reports from the Floodway Authority (and as reported in the Winnipeg Free Press, July 29, 2009 B6), the Red River Floodway was not only completed ahead of schedule as stated, in came in under budget . According to these two sources, the cost savings allowed for the construction of two additional bridges. There is no estimate of how much money was saved by completing the project ahead of schedule; that amount could well exceed the amount of the better wages and working conditions the Free Press is so opposed to.
Reference to workers’ ‘right-to-work’ is dropped into the argument as if it were a universally accepted good, tried and true. Coined in the vehemently anti-union, anti-worker US (in predominantly ex-slave/agrarian states), right-to-work would be better put as, ‘right to work for low pay, no benefits and no protection from exploitive employers’. Research done in the US show that average hourly wages are 16% higher in states that do not have right-to-work legislation and that right-to-work laws suppress employer-paid health care and pension benefits. And if the Free Press is so concerned about the right of workers not to join a union, one must assume that they also see an injustice with the thousands of workers who would like to join a union, but who are prevented from doing so by their employers.
The claim that Bipole III’s costs are higher than necessary is also highly debatable. Using a modern sustainable development lens, and keeping in mind the injustices of past hydro development, the logical route for Bipole III is the west side.
Finally, Manitobans will remember that it was public money that paid for the much-needed floodway expansion. When the government spends public money, it is obliged to get the best public value for every dollar it spends. Through equitable hiring initiatives, the project was able to hire Aboriginal businesses and provide much needed training and experience to Aboriginal workers. Not only did the Province benefit from improved infrastructure, it invested in its long-term economic development by bringing more Manitobans into the labour market. These types of procurement policies, combined with decent wages and benefits, lead to economic growth and stability.
If the five workers who don’t want to join a union are that opposed to the decent wages and reasonable working conditions afforded by a collective agreement, there is myriad of non-union, precarious workplaces that would be happy to hire them.
Lynne Fernandez is a research associate with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Manitoba. Shauna MacKinnon is the director of the CCPA-mb.