After a weekend of shows of support from provincial and local labour groups and time to consider the latest offer of binding arbitration from Fortis BC, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 213 bargaining team has presented the company with a counter-offer in a last ditch attempt to end the six month lockout before Christmas.
“We presented the company with our three options we presented in the last session and as a fourth option we offered to enter into binding arbitration,” said Rod Russell, IBEW business manager. “We’re requesting some changes to the binding arbitration but I don’t think there’s anything that should be a roadblock.”
Binding arbitration would see employees return to work while the arbitration is negotiated, with an agreement by both sides of the dispute to accept the terms of the arbitrator.
Russell admitted apprehension on the part of the bargaining team and IBEW membership to agreeing to the process.
“The first time we went to the mediator it opened the door to some of the concessions the company wanted,” he said. “The only real outstanding items we have in this are the ones that were presented after being locked out.”
The latest proposal by the IBEW includes some reference to work items but largely focuses on the terms of arbitration such as the selection of the arbitrator and the items open to consideration for a new agreement.
“We don’t think this should be an open book,” said Russell. “We don’t want previous memorandums of agreement to be included and we don’t want the arbitrator’s decision to be coloured by previously rejected offers. We have a list of three arbitrators that we have agreed to in the past and we’re open to engage in discussion on an arbitrator or use one of the three we’ve previously agreed to.”
As of press time Fortis BC has not made a statement on the latest offer.
“The company did receive information from the union,” said Joyce Wagenaar, director of communications with Fortis BC. “Our labour relations group is working through it and will respond to the union. We’ll have more to say at that time.”
From the perspective of the IBEW, the decision to end the lockout now rests with the company.
“The ball is in their court,” said Russell. “If this offer of binding arbitration wasn’t just show we should be able to get to it.”