FortisBC and Kensington, PEI: Grinch’s This Christmas With Their Employees

By Andrew Chernoff

On different sides of the country, two groups of union members with differences but with two unfortunate things in common: different unions, in different sectors, one union in the private sector, one in the public sector, the two groups of union members are locked out with employers acting like Grinch’s this Christmas.

Unless a Grinch’s Heart Grows, Locked Out FortisBC Workers Won’t Have A Merry Christmas.

Unless a Grinch’s heart grows, this story of 225 locked out electrical workers won’t have a very merry ending. The latest round of negotiations between FortisBC and its electrical workers have failed; all but ensuring the workers will be locked out for the holiday season.

Two days of talks broke off on December 5, 2013 with no end in sight for the nearly six month lockout that began on June 26.

For 225 workers across the southern interior who haven’t seen a paycheque in six months, Christmas is going to be really tough. For FortisBC which has saved over $7 million dollars and is only raising rates another 19% by 2018, obviously Christmas doesn’t matter much. Except of course for its CEO, who will take in another $1.4 million this year. He’ll certainly be jolly, while his workers are freezing and his customers are paying more.

Since locking out its electrical employees FortisBC has continued to only add requirements for a deal to be done. Negotiations collapsed today because the company will not budge from two significant demands: a mandatory compressed work week which entails longer working days for less money, and the Union’s surrender of its legal right to labour action in the System Control Centre.

After suffering six months without pay, the Union wanted its members back to work so at least Christmas could be a happy time spent with their family. Seeking to be flexible, three proposals were brought to the table. One was the same, identical deal FortisBC signed yesterday with COPE 378, its office workers, and the company said no. The second proposal was a basic, plain back-to-work agreement, that included only minimal wage increases of 2.5%-2%-2%-2.5%-2.5%, no other changes, and the company said no.

Though it would be hard for workers with young families, the third proposal included a compromise on the mandatory compressed work week. All workers would be forced to be on the compressed work week if 50%+1 of the crew voted for it or if 75% of the workers’ headquarters voted for it. The company had already agreed to a 5% premium as compensation for working the longer 10 hour day which would significantly encourage workers to vote for it. However FortisBC rejected this compromise.

If these demands of a compressed work week and giving up right to strike were so important for FortisBC, why didn’t the company bring them up earlier? Why did FortisBC only make these demands months after its workers were locked out? It would appear FortisBC isn’t interested in a deal or compromise; it just wants its workers locked out until FortisBC can get whatever it wants.”

Town of Kensington, PEI Locks Out Its Employees

With less than three weeks until Christmas, the Town of Kensington, PEI has locked out a half dozen of its CUPE Local 4893 unionized employees.

The move, said CUPE national representative Stacy Delaney, blindsided the employees who were in the midst of contract negotiations with the town.

“The part we find most disturbing,” she says, “is that although there is no good time for workers to be locked out by an employer, it is less than three weeks before Christmas and this employer is choosing to lock its employees out of work. This is cold-hearted, to be sure.”

“This came right out of left field for us. We never imagined that the employer would take the stance to lock out members tomorrow morning,” Delaney said late Tuesday. “We were in talks. We put a final offer in. We counter-offered and then we basically rejected their counter-offer to us. We felt we would just wait and go to arbitration and proceed.”

Delaney said CUPE national and the local will provide some financial support to the employees and the union will send out an appeal for the support of other unions and CUPE locals on the Island and in the region “to make this as painless as possible.”

“It is really hard to know how long it will play out. A lot of people are in shock. We have to have those conversations,” she added. “The goal is to support everyone and get them through. It is a rough time of year, Christmas time.”

CUPE National Representative Stacy Delaney says, “CUPE Local 4893 members, consisting of Police Officers, Communication Technicians, Public Works and Janitors, were told that as of tomorrow morning (December 4, 2013), all employees excluding Police Officers will be locked out.”

Delaney says Local 4893’s contract expired in April 2013. After five days of bargaining with the Town of Kensington in May, the parties were unable to reach an agreement. That’s when the union filed for conciliation.

Three more days of conciliation took place in September and October. The matter was referred to a Board of Arbitration on October 8th, 2013 by the Minister of Environment, Labour and Justice, Janice Sherry.

Delaney says, “The outstanding issues all relate to equality and fairness for this group of employees, things like on-call pay for part-time police officers, wages and the duration of the contract. We are not asking for anything more than what other Town of Kensington employees have received.


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