Job action continues as FortisBC seeks hike

Job action continues as FortisBC seeks hike

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While FortisBC has applied for yet another rate increase (3.3 per cent for 2014), workers are still trying to secure a new collective agreement as job action continues.

“Our customers have told us that the cost of electricity and reliability are their main concerns,” said John Walker, president and CEO of FortisBC. “In this application, we’re trying to balance our customers’ need to minimize rate increases, while addressing rising power costs and paying for the necessary investment to the electrical system.”

If approved by the BC Utilities Commission, this application provides incentive for the utility to find savings, which will be shared with customers, Walker said.

FortisBC is also engaged in a review of the residential conservation rate. FortisBC is currently drafting a report that will be filed with the BCUC, which will include public input and will study the impact of a conservation rate on customers.

“While most customers benefit from the residential conservation rate, we are sensitive that some pay more. This report will provide a better understanding of the issues and impacts of the rate,” said Walker.

In the meantime, FortisBC workers are still looking for a three per cent wage increase as they continue their job action.

Union spokesman Rod Russell said the company’s offer was two per cent, leaving only one per cent as the difference.

“We’re important to the operation and deserve to be valued . . . we got to the point where we felt we won’t be able to ratify for anything less.”

Russell said members recently voted on the company’s offer and 88 per cent rejected it. “We’re not accepting, it’s not close enough to our final offer.”

Russell said workers have started limited job action, which has been escalating. He noted FortisBC recently locked out workers during the impasse.

He noted job action includes mechanics not ordering parts, which management is now doing. Russell said these things are designed to pressure the company. He acknowledged there will be some inconvenience to customers, but essential services will be maintained.

For example, if the power goes out, management will keep things going, Russell said. If there’s a storm, management will call the workers, who will respond.

Russell said three linemen in Oliver quit before the lockout, noting these positions will be “tough holes to fill.”

FortisBC spokesman Neal Pobran said they did put forward an offer to the union (IBEW 213) that included general wage increases and no concessions to pensions or benefits.

“We feel our offer balanced both the interests of the company and our customers, and we would like to keep the specifics of wages to the bargaining table.”

Pobran said one per cent does not sound like a large difference, but the company’s offer was voted on and rejected by the membership.  “We look forward to continuing to reach a deal with the IBEW 213 through dialogue.”

 

Lyonel Doherty

Oliver Chronicle

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