Mediated talks between FortisBC & IBEW 213 break off
Any signs of optimism expressed with news that FortisBC and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 213 started mediation bargaining to end an already eight-week long lockout Wednesday short-circuited not long thereafter.
FortisBC and IBEW Local 213 negotiators returned to the bargaining table in Vancouver with the assistance of third party private mediator Vince Ready.
But it was clear after talks broke off there is no quick solution to the lockout that started June 26.
“It became clear that there wasn’t a lot to work with if the union was willing to negotiate or explore solutions,” Joyce Wagenaar, Director of Communications at FortisBC told The Nelson Daily Thursday.
“Essentially we were willing to negotiate (but) really there wasn’t anything to negotiate with so at that point it didn’t make sense to remain at the table.”
When reached by telephone, IBEW Local 213 business manager Rod Russell blamed the company for walking away.
“It’s incredibly frustrating and I have a true belief that this company has no interest in getting a deal,” Russell exclaimed.
“(FortisBC) keeps saying they want to bargain, but they don’t want to bargain,” Russell adds. “It makes no sense. I don’t think a mediator could make senses of it. The parties are so close and Fortis just tried to drive a ridiculous wedge . . ..”
The IBEW Local 213 represents employees various generation, transmission and distribution operations, including power line technicians, electricians and system power dispatchers from Creston to the south and Central Okanagan.
IBEW also represents employees on the gas side of FortisBC in a different collective agreement. The gas employees are not impacted by this job action.
FortisBC and IBEW Local 213 have been without a contract since January 31, 2013.
The two parties have been bargaining since January but have been reached an impasse.
The union said FortisBC negotiators bended a little on its monetary proposal — increasing the monetary offer from 2% to 2.5% with no retroactivity.
However, Russell said the company added a provision during Wednesday session to have control of a four-day-work-week with a 5 % premium, radius language along with a BC Hydro wage scale for new hires.
“We will never agree to radius language . . . we will never agree to two-tier deals,” said Russell, adding the union, which already had an offer on the table of 3% plus retro pay, countered the recent Fortis proposal by taking off job description language and leaving only Family Day, money and term on the table.
“And it’s bargaining in bad faith to try to throw this stuff on the table. Fortis had put a proposal for job description on the table but we have never seen this stuff from them during negotiations.”
Wagenaar said FortisBC is only trying to manage its workforce like any other company.
“We actually increased our last offer agreeing to what the union was looking for in exchange for improvements in productivity in how we manage work,” Wagenaar explained.
“Those at the bargaining table were looking to find solutions to reach an agreement. Essentially the IBEW presented their prior offer but were not flexible to explore solutions.”
Wagenaar said FortisBC remain committed to negotiating a new deal.
However, Russell believes September will be a month when the two parties will be in front of the Labour Board arguing the union’s claim FortisBC managers are breaking the essential service order.
“We’re going to be at the Labour Board with regards to the essential service orders,” said Russell, adding he received an email that Teck and Columbia Power Corporation were denied intervener status for September hearings.
“So I anticipate September to be a month of litigation.”
Intervener status would have allowed Tech and CPC the opportunity to appear during the Labour Board hearings between Fortis and IBEW Local 213.
The last strike at the power company happened in 2001, which lasted just short of four months.