COPE 378 union representing almost 150 West Kootenay and Okanagan FortisBC workers undertook a strike vote last night in Trail as the union prepares to force the company’s hand over a contract negotiation impasse.
Although the results of the vote were not known as of press time Wednesday, Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union (COPE) union Local 378 president David Black said the vote could be used as leverage in the negotiations that have been going on since 2010.
“Maybe just taking the strike vote will get them to come back to the bargaining table,” he said. “I think that we certainly know that the members are very serious. We are expecting a very high strike vote … I hope that (the company) can adjust their position once we get the results of that.”
With around 30 members in Trail, the two sides have largely agreed on wages and the duration of the contract, said Black, but the main sticking point is around benefits. The offer on the table from the company would reduce the benefits plan, Black said.
And with FortisBC quite successful financially right now, the union “does not see any need to have their benefits reduced.”
“The way the union has viewed the offer is that it will really set the members back,” said Black.
The union told the company “clearly in June the offer would not fly,” and after a summer bargaining break the company would not budge when negotiations resumed.
“We bargained with them as we could around other issues, but this is very much an outstanding issue there,” Black said.
It has been a complicated round of bargaining with FortisBC now owning most of the electrical utility companies in the Kootenays and having bought Terasen Gas. There was some discussion of merging the two company’s collective agreements—a move that did not happen.
The union also met in Kelowna on Tuesday night for a strike vote.