Over 100 area union members, family members, and provincial labour representatives braved the bitter cold Saturday afternoon in a show of support for locked out FortisBC employees.
Representatives of the United Steelworkers Local 480 and Local 9346 in Sparwood, the Kootenay Columbia Teachers Union (KCTU), the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union (COPE), the Nelson and District Teachers Union, the Hospital Employees Union, and the West Kootenay Labour Council, gathered outside of the Fortis offices in downtown Trail and listened, applauded, and offered cheers of support for the over 200 locked out members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 213 and jeers and cries of shame for FortisBC.
“This lockout has been completely unnecessary and it’s hurting communities and hurting the employees,” said Jim Sinclair, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour. “This company makes good money and they should get this fixed by Christmas.”
Susan Lambert, past president of the B.C. Teachers Federation, Katrine Conroy, Kootenay West MLA, David Black, president of COPE, Armindo deMedeiros, president of USW, Local 480, Alex Hanson, president of USW Local 9346, Andy Davidoff, president of KCTU, and Rod Russell, business manager for IBEW Local 213, all had words of support and thanks for the locked out employees and sharp criticism for the company’s handling of the lockout that has stretched on for over six months.
Discussions between the company and union last week ended, once again, with no resolution but FortisBC has since then invited the IBEW to enter into binding arbitration in order to settle the dispute.
“The decision to enter into Binding Interest Arbitration now sits with the union,” Joyce Wagenaar, director of communications for FortisBC, said in a media release.
“If the union leadership accepts it, then we can proceed; or the leadership may want to take it to the membership for a vote. Then, if the process of binding arbitration is accepted, our employees would immediately return to work with the outcome of the arbitration process to follow at a later date.”
As eager as the locked out employees may be to return to work and paycheques, the IBEW bargaining committee is cautious about committing to the arbitration process.
“The international vice president of the IBEW approached Fortis and we went back to the table last week,” said Local 213’s Russell.
“We gave them three options to consider with no ultimatums, we were willing to talk. They said ‘no’ so we broke it off.
“The next day they called with the invitation to binding arbitration. The members are concerned about arbitration, things didn’t go well with (mediator) Vince Ready. We’ve fought this far to negotiate but we’ve got to move forward. I don’t know how that’ll happen. Right now I guess we’ll consider all options.”