Union counters FortisBC claims

A response to a letter to the editor from FortisBC that appeared in the November 15 issue of the Times.

I’d like to comment on FortisBC Joyce Wagenaar’s response to a letter to the editor (“FortisBC responds to comments,” Trail Times, Nov. 15).

I feel she has left out some important facts that would be interesting for FortisBC ratepayers to know.

FortisBC has not shown any effort towards resolution. The last three negotiations/meetings with the IBEW 213 bargaining committee were initiated by the IBEW not FortisBC. In fact, at the first union-initiated mediation, FortisBC walked out after only five hours of a scheduled two days of mediated talks.

Prior to these talks the IBEW had offered a return to work agreement as a cooling off period while awaiting mediation. FortisBC refused. To get FortisBC to the table for another attempt at mediation the union was forced to accept new discussion items. FortisBC still refused to end the lockout.

It is true that the latest tentative agreement was rejected by a majority of the IBEW membership.

The IBEW bargaining committee and Rod Russell felt obliged to bring the offer to a vote despite the fact neither were consulted or involved in the negotiations leading to the tentative agreement. The bargaining committee believes that the IBEW membership has a democratic right to vote on its future.

The majority rejection of the offer shows the resolve to reach a fair and reasonable agreement with no concessions to working conditions, such as a forced 9.5-hour work day. Joyce Wagenaar states that the 9.5-hour work day would be scheduled annually, but neglects to mention that FortisBC would be able to schedule a 9.5-hour work day with no notice to the affected employee.

Another concession in the last tentative agreement included eliminating System Power dispatcher’s rights to refuse to cross a picket line, a cornerstone of democracy and union philosophy. To ensure public safety IBEW System Power dispatchers performed their duties until FortisBC management was able to assume them.

It is also true that FortisBC employees make a decent wage. We’d like to continue to make a decent wage. The IBEW is asking for less than a cost of living increase annually. Also, the skewed dollar figures Wagenaar quotes include health and pension benefits.

In FortisBC’s own submission to the BCUC it admits it pays the union employees up to 10 percent less than the B.C. industry standard. It pays its upper management more than the industry standard.

In regards to the reason for the lockout: FortisBC was informed by the IBEW that locking out individual employees would constitute locking out all employees stationed at that headquarters. FortisBC still attempted to lock out a single employee at the System Control Centre despite being aware of the resulting threatened job action. This action sent a clear message to the union that FortisBC felt it was capable of operating the electrical system safely without IBEW representative employees. FortisBC locked out its employees the next day even though the system control centre dispatchers did not walk out.

FortisBC has also demonstrated a lack of integrity in past agreements. Three months after signing the 2005 agreement, FortisBC eliminated coffee breaks, as it wasn’t specifically mentioned in the agreement.

In the last agreement, power line technicians were to be paid an 8 per cent premium for attraction and retention reasons as they are paid 10 per cent less than the rest of the province’s power line technicians. It was taken away after a year. The demand is still apparent.

The IBEW bargaining committee is ready and willing to meet at any time. Since being locked out our schedule is wide open. FortisBC: actions speak louder than words.

If FortisBC truly wants to get back to the bargaining table it should set some dates for open discussion on the issues.

Albert Bortolussi,

IBEW Bargaining Committee Member