Locked out Fortis BC workers continue to man the picket line at the system control centre in Warfield. No talks have been scheduled between the two sides.

Locked out Fortis BC workers continue to man the picket line at the system control centre in Warfield. No talks have been scheduled between the two sides.

Fortis, union at odds over essential services

Two weeks into the FortisBC lockout of over 200 IBEW members there appears to be no end in sight.

Two weeks into the FortisBC lockout of over 200 International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) members there appears to be no end in sight and the union is crying foul over the company’s actions.

IBEW Business Manager, Rod Russell, says that the company’s actions are violating the Essential Services Order by finding “loopholes” and performing IBEW duties.

The order, in effect, stipulates that certain IBEW members are required to maintain the necessary systems to ensure public safety and continuity of electrical service to customers while management staff take over only non-essential duties.

“The Essential Services Order has specific limitations and requirements,” said Russell. “In our opinion the company is contravening the order.”

The union claims that, according to the order set out by the Labour Relations Board (LRB) in April, FortisBC management is not allowed to take electrical meter readings from customers, but instead are taking photographs of the meters and submitting the photos for billing. They also claim management is performing new electrical hook-ups.

The IBEW submitted its objections to the LRB last week and both sides are awaiting a decision.

According to Neil Pobran, FortisBC corporate communications representative, the company is following the Essential Services Order as it understands it.

“The IBEW has brought their concerns to the LRB and we’re waiting for a decision,” he said.

“We’re looking for clarity from them.”

The IBEW’s Russell says that from their perspective, the situation is just very frustrating.

“We don’t have a lot of tools in our tool box in the way of job action,” said Russell. “If they can just go on with business as usual then it’s pretty hard for us to make our point.”

Russell says that although the union is fully prepared to return to the bargaining table the company has shown no interest in talking.

“We’re not that far apart,” he said.

“I don’t see how this lockout makes any sense business-wise, it’s hard to see how they’re saving a lot of money by doing this.”

However, FortisBC’s Pobran says that the company has always wanted to reach an agreement and is  willing to meet with their union counterparts.

“We’re proceeding according to the order and talking with the union daily to provide updates,” Pobran said.

“We’ve put forward an offer that balances the interests of our customers and the company and we hope to get back to negotiations and achieve it.”

FortisBC closed the gates on electrical workers on June 26, activating an Essential Services Order that had been approved by the B.C. Labour Relations Board in April, affecting employees in power generation, transmission, and distribution in the West Kootenay and Okanagan.