The lockout of FortisBC workers continues to drag on after employees rejected a mediator’s recommendations for an agreement.
FortisBC director of communications Joyce Wagenaar said they received confirmation on October 3 that employees represented by the union (IBEW 213) did not ratify mediator Vince Ready’s recommendations.
“FortisBC accepted Mr. Ready’s recommendations and believed there was an opportunity to end the labour dispute,” she said.
But Rod Russell, assistant business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, had this to say: “The addition of numerous contentious concessions during mediation, which were included in the recommendation, made it unpalatable to the membership in spite of being locked out for more than three months.”
The labour dispute began when the union issued strike notice in May. Job action then escalated.
Wagenaar said when the union indicated that employees in the electrical system control centre would walk off the job, FortisBC took action to protect customers by activating the Essential Services Order to maintain safety and system reliability.
“Unfortunately, the only way the company can activate the Essential Services Order is to serve a lockout notice to the union, which we did on June 26.”
Wagenaar said they are continuing to focus on serving their customers and remain committed to reaching an agreement.
Russell said the union is available to meet with the employer to reach a fair and reasonable agreement. He noted the parties’ proposals were very close in April. The union had been seeking a market-competitive wage increase of three per cent. Russell said the company’s offer was two per cent, leaving only a one per cent difference.
“The union believes the parties should be working to bring themselves closer to a resolution, not drive them apart.”
Russell said the union believes ratepayers should be questioning the reasons why FortisBC locked out their employees, and how this lockout is being funded. He also said the BC Utilities Commission should investigate the actions of FortisBC.
“The locked out employees want to go back to work and provide the service they specialize in to the ratepayer, but are not willing to be starved into submission when the proposal is not unreasonable.”
Russell said the union had agreed to take any recommendation to the membership for a vote. He noted that workers voted on Ready’s recommendations without union-directed acceptance or rejection recommendations.
Russell said each worker cast a secret ballot resulting in an overwhelming rejection of the recommendations.
Oliver Mayor Ron Hovanes said he hopes that, for the sake of everyone, the parties keep talking and solve their issues.”
The mayor said one concern that has come before the Town is, during a relatively calm construction year, you cannot get service quotes or new services when needed.
“This has put a full stop to some construction,” he pointed out.