It has been 8 weeks since the Manitoba Public Insurance (MPI) strike has paced the streets. We run our errands and budgeting groceries out of our incomes all the while wondering what provokes the consumer to want to stand in the chili air with picket signs and banners hanging around their neck. To date an average of 1,700 MPI employee individuals feel they have been oppressed to the breaking point under current inflation.
In the last year, Manitoba has ranked a 7.8% increase According to the Government of Canada, The Manitoba Consumer Price Index (CPI). This marking second highest in all of Canada. This being after already rising by 3.3% in 2021, and then 6.8% in 2022.
The union representing this strike is the The Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union (MGEU). In which MGEU president; Kyle Ross says that simply asking to be “treated fairly” isn’t too much to ask. While it seems everyone has been hit with the market equally, that is in deed not the case. Several companies are currently growing twice as fast as inflation which are in turn causing people to push back.
When people skeptically embarked on the picket lines they approached the Union saying they can’t afford to go on strike, Ross’s reply was that “We can’t afford NOT to”.
According to Ross, MPI gave their “enhanced” offer including moving forward by a year a 3.5 per cent permanent base pay step across all pay grades; a one per cent permanent special market adjustment for non-operational staff; an eight per cent wage increase over fours years; and a $1,800 one-time signing bonus.
In turn the MGEU said the 3.5 per cent increase would only apply “to just under half of MPI members.” The union says it’s not worth recommending the offer to a vote, and it’s ready to go back to the bargaining table.
With the strike entering it’s eighth week, the corporation’s technology systems has nearly tripled in cost to nearly $300 million. The organization is also currently undergoing an external organizational review.
With such an expense denting the income of the corporation, that money will have to be made up somewhere, in which Thompson City Mayor; Colleen Smook figures that it will be put on the shoulders of the consumer; “Depending on how the MPI strike ends it could end up being a lot higher cost for insurance. There has to be a cost for being closed down so long. That will likely be passed to the consumer”
Local Ford dealer Kevin Kelleher shared his passionate feelings regarding the struggles working with MPI insurance company, referred to them as a “cheapskate outfit” and explained how they don’t pay enough to neither employees or dealerships.
In the summer of 2020 MPI rated the lowest paying Insurance company in all of Manitoba, paying dealerships a mere $80 for an auto body repair.
It was the Manitoba Dealers Association that banded together all vehicle dealers of the North to go on strike against MPI. However the dealerships did not come to a point of strike, they approached MPI with the threat of refusing all MPI registered vehicles. MPI conceded, and upgraded the pay to $120 per quote.
Though odds won in favor of the car dealerships, they are still feeling the effects of this current strike as well. Joe goes on to explain how MPI have been making the dealerships assess and investigate the claims on their own, blaming it on the fact that with current strike MPI is ‘under staffed’.
“They’re putting it in our ballpark so they don’t have to make as many pay outs” Joe explained. And if a claim is made incorrectly by dealerships MPI holds them responsible and making them pay for the insurance repairs on their own dime.
Kelleher continued; “What I’m worried about is once they DO come off strike, they’ll continue to do that, and then they hold us responsible if we file the claim wrong, we take the hit” though while MPI takes their losses out on the dealerships Kelleher said he truly hopes the favor of the employees are won.
As of October 3rd The Manitoba government has appointed a new board of directors for MPI in an effort to resume services and return financial accountability to the Crown corporation.
Justice Minister Matt Wiebe, minister responsible for MPI, announced today.
“We are acting quickly to appoint a proven team of leaders dedicated to setting a new direction and preserving our public auto insurance model,” said Wiebe. “There is a clear need for oversight, accountability and a new relationship with employees, and I am confident that this board has the experience and ability to find that ground.”
With this new chair member change this has given hope to the protesters and people of the surrounding communities whereas before stepping down, former MPI Chairperson; Ward Keith said the crown corporation would not be making further offers and was simply “Waiting” as he put it, for binding arbitration to be required which according to Manitoba labor laws happens after 60 days of strike action.
“Binding arbitration nobody wins with” Stated Smook “Quite often you end up with accepting less then you might have got. I’m hoping that they will get to speak their minds and find out what the issues are”
The talk of the town has been no less then heated, as one thing the community as a whole can agree on is the fact that needs need to be met for the people of the communities. With inflation exceeding wages of the people, MPI is an example of one company that is coming under fire for a long over due integrity observation.
~Matthias J. Johnson is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Thompson Citizen. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.