They’ll need more firewood on the picket lines as the summer long battle between Fortis BC and its electrical employees looks like it will stretch on into the colder months.
After more than three months on the picket line locked out International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 213 have voted to reject the recommendations of mediator, Vince Ready, continuing the dispute with Fortis BC.
“I think that given the circumstances and the fact that they’ve been out for so long already it’s sending a strong message,” said Rod Russell, business manager for IBEW Local 213. “The reason they’re saying no is a lot on principle, they’re being starved into submission but they’re not accepting that.”
Ready presented his recommendations to the two sides after two days of mediation talks, Sept. 25 and 26.
The company accepted the recommendations for settlement of the dispute and the bargaining committee for the union presented the proposed agreement to the membership without recommending acceptance or rejection of the deal.
IBEW members in the West Kootenay voted on the proposal last Wednessday, followed by their Okanagan counterparts Thursday.
“We’re not saying anything about the numbers right now other than it’s not even close (to acceptance),” said Russell. “People are suffering to various degrees and there’s a lot of emotion but I never heard one person say, ‘It’s a good deal.’”
Director of Communications for Fortis BC, Joyce Wagenaar, voiced the disappointment of the company in having the summer-long lockout continue into autumn and possibly beyond.
“We had thought it was an opportunity to end the dispute,” said Wagenaar. “Given this is just on the heels of the rejection there is no clear path to resolving this for our customers and employees. However, we remain committed to negotiation and open to returning to the bargaining table.”
The disappointment felt by the company is echoed by the local bargaining committee but the union representatives see darker motives in Fortis BC’s bargaining strategy.
“This company never came to bargain, they came to dictate,” said committee member, Albert Bortolussi. “The rate increases were reasonable, everything else was concessionary. In today’s climate it just looks to me like union busting tactics and we’re the guinea pigs. We’re the smallest union and if we cave they’ll just take the same strategy into bargaining with the next union down the line.”
At this point no further mediation talks are scheduled between the company and the almost 230 employees working in generation, transmission, and distribution of electricity.
The lockout affects employees and Fortis BC customers in Southern B.C. ranging from Princeton in the West, through the Okanagan and West Kootenay to Creston in the east.