Fortis pulls plug on talks with union

Fortis has walked away from talks with IBEW on the first day of negotiations.

Without even completing the first day of mediation between Fortis BC and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW,) the company walked away from the table, dashing brief hopes that the eight-week lockout of almost 230 employees might be near an end.

“They gave us a new proposal asking for some unbelievable concessions that we’ve never even seen before,” said IBEW business manager Rod Russell Wednesday evening. “It’s quite obvious they didn’t want a deal. They didn’t give (mediator, Vince) Ready anything to work with and then they walked out.”

Talks had barely begun before the two sides saw a widening gap between their positions, generally focusing on the introduction of a two-tier pay and benefit package for newly hired employees, the introduction of new contract language regarding travel pay, retroactivity of any pay increase, and discussions around a compressed work week altering between five days at 7.5 hours or four days at 10 hours, based on the company’s discretion.

As is common in labour disputes, the company has a different opinion on the events at the bargaining table.

“Unfortunately, talks have broken down,” said Joyce Wagenaar, director of communications for Fortis BC. “Fortis came to the table flexible and open, prepared to bridge the gap in differences but when it became clear that they weren’t going to move on their prior offer, we ended the talks.”

The breakdown in talks leaves the union on the picket lines preparing to make applications to the B.C. Labour Relations Board (LRB) to expand their picket lines and looking towards a possibility of litigation to resolve the dispute.

“We went there being optimistic and hopeful,” said local bargaining committee member Al Bertolussi. “But the stuff they brought us in mediation took us miles apart. There was still room to negotiate but they walked away.”

The union will be presenting new applications to the LRB in early September.