December 7, 2013 By Andrew Chernoff, West Kootenay Labour Council
TRAIL-IBEW 213 and COPE 378 locked out FortisBC workers, labour and community supporters along with distinguished dignitaries gathered at the FortisBC office in downtown Trail, B.C. on December 7, 2013.
Those at the rally braved wind and cold temperatures as cold as –16 degrees Celsius, listening to distinguished speakers demanding that FortisBC do what it did with COPE 378 FortisBC inside workers last week——bargain in good faith a new and fair collective agreement—–and end the six month lock out imposed by them on June 26.
Speaker after speaker…….
- Jim Sinclair, president of the BC Federation of Labour;
- David Black, president of COPE 378;
- Katrina Conroy, NDP MLA Kootenay West;
- Susan Lambert, past president of the B.C. Teachers Federation;
- Andy Davidoff, president of the Kootenay-Columbia Teachers’ Union;
- Rod Russell, IBEW 213 business manager
- Armindo deMedeiros, president USW 480
—–all encouraging locked out FortisBC workers to continue standing their ground.
The speakers also appealed to FortisBC locked out worker supporters in the community and the House of Labour, to continue demanding FortisBC do the respectful and dignified thing: sit down and negotiate in good faith a new and fair collective agreement, and end this lockout that is now in its sixth month.
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 failed earlier in the week; 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.
An IBEW 213 statement released after talks broke off on Thursday, stated:
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.”
More pictures of rally: