Black and Farrell Visit COPE Members on IBEW Picket Lines



Tuesday, August 20, 2013

When the driver of large semi truck blew his horn and waved in support as he rumbled by the picket line, COPE 378 and IBEW 213 members waved back and put their fists in the air before turning back to their visitors, President David Black and Vice President Gwenne Farrell.

"The support from the community has been really good," said a young male IBEW member, with a hint of a sunburn from the bright sky showing on his cheekbones. "First off, it’s a lockout, they know we want to go back to work. Put that with Fortis’ recent [electricity] rate increase, they’re all pretty onside."

FortisBC, the primary electric utility in the Kootenays and parts of B.C.’s interior, locked out approximately 200 workers of Local 213 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in June following the overwhelming rejection of the company’s final offer. IBEW 213 members said FortisBC’s efforts to control job descriptions have the potential to substantially de-skill their workforce, one of the major reasons they so decisively voted the offer down. The other issue is wages, but the company and the union were only one per cent per year apart. Instead of negotiating further, FortisBC locked the workers out.

The lockout affects 28 of COPE 378’s FortisBC members (COPE 378 also represents over 500 members at Fortis Energy, the gas arm of the utility, and around 300 members at the Fortis Customer Care Centre; none of those members are affected at this time). Those 28 members are respecting the IBEW picket line and refusing to cross. They are eager to get back to work–but only if there’s a deal.

"Of course we have to stand with them," said an older male COPE member at one of the first stops made by Black and Farrell. "It’s the right thing to do and we also know our bargaining is coming up next. If Fortis gets away with treating Local 213 like this they’re coming after us next."

Black and Farrell spent a day and a half criss crossing the FortisBC service area to meet and speak with members. They visited Castlegar and South Slocan, Creston and Warfield on Monday (but just missed the Warfield picket shift), then Oliver, Penticton and Kelowna on Tuesday. At each place they heard similar comments–strong support for the IBEW members, a desire to get back to work and concerns about their own bargaining coming up in February of 2014.

"These are good jobs here, in our communities," said a female COPE 378 member in Oliver, when talking about the impact of the lockout. "Some of our coworkers are single parents or just single. There’s not always secondary income to rely on." Picket pay is enough to cover basics but the locked out workers aren’t able to contribute to their local economies in the same way as before the dispute.

There is hope a resolution is around the corner. IBEW 213 is heading into mediation with the company this Thursday, which could lead to an end of the eight week long lockout. Meanwhile, COPE 378 members and leadership hope the lockout won’t prove to be a dry run for their own negotiations. But if it is difficult to reach a collective agreement COPE members know they will have the support of their union brothers and sisters from the IBEW.

Before Black and Farrell left the Kelowna Fortis picket line an IBEW member approached them. "I want you to know they’ve been great," he said, gesturing to the COPE picketers. "These folks have been out here with us every day. I can’t tell you what that means."


Fortis Lockout of IBEW Local 213 Workers Continues Without Talks Scheduled

July 27, 2013



Locked out IBEW Local 213 members at Fortis site in Warfield,supported by CUPE Local 2087-Trail Civic members.

The 240 union members of IBEW Local 213 locked out on June 26 by Fortis, continue to walk the picket lines, without any sign of end to the lockout.

The lockout affects employees on the electrical side of the company working in generation, transmission, and distribution operations.

The two sides were bargaining since January when the existing collective agreement expired in February.

During bargaining, FortisBC went directly to the employees with an offer that was rejected by 88 percent of the union membership.

The union offer calls for a three percent per year wage increase for three years, retroactive, a Family Day for employees and a leave provision with benefits for people who accept union positions.

The union has given Fortis a concession in the area of job descriptions which involves the union willing to agree to the employer consulting with them over the language rather that the two sides having to agree on the language of the job descriptions.

The last labour dispute between employees and Fortis was in 2001 and lasted for four months.

CUPE Local 2087 Shows Solidarity For Locked Out Fortis Workers

June 16, 2013


Local 2087 Executive members Andrew Chernoff (left) and Joe Matteucci (right) join  locked out Fortis Workers on picked line at system control centre in Warfield Tuesday.

TRAIL-International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 213 Fortis workers are on week three of an employer imposed lockout that began on June 26 affecting over 200 workers.

As a sign of Union Solidarity, Joe Matteucci, Cupe Local 2087-Trail Civic VP and Andrew Chernoff, Chief Shop Steward for Local 2087, brought cold bottles of water and fresh fruit for the picket line in Warfield, which were appreciated by the locked out employees.

The labour impasse shows no signs of ending soon as the two sides are not talking and are before the Labour Relations Board over essential services order limitations and orders, including union claims that Fortis management are doing work contrary to the ESO established prior to the lockout on June 26.

“We’re not that far apart,” IBEW Business Manager, Rod Russell told the Trail Times newspaper this week.

“I don’t see how this lockout makes any sense business-wise, it’s hard to see how they’re saving a lot of money by doing this.”

The main points they’re looking at in a new contract are a three per cent general wage increase for three years, and a net gain of one day off with pay for Family Day.

The lockout affects IBEW employees in power generation, transmission, and distribution in the West Kootenay and Okanagan.

FortisBC lockout impacts Greater Trail workers

By Art Harrison – Trail Daily Times
Published: June 27, 2013 10:39 AM
Updated: June 27, 2013 10:39 AM

FortisBC workers were locked out at Warfield’s System Control Centre on Wednesday. Art Harrison photo

FortisBC locked out members of Local 213 International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Wednesday morning, affecting 225 employees in the B.C. Southern Interior.

Those directly affected are electric employees working in generation, transmission, and distribution operations, including employees at Warfield’s System Control Centre such as power line technicians, electricians, and power systems dispatchers.

The move came as a surprise to the IBEW union representatives and membership.

“I got a phone call at 9 a.m. and received a letter this morning. They told me they were going to be locking us out.” explained Rod Russell, Local 213 IBEW business manager.

“FortisBC felt it was appropriate to take this action at this time to provide reliability and certainty to our customers,” said Joyce Wagenaar, FortisBC Director of Communications. “Customers can expect regular electrical services, availability of our contact centre, regular billing, and crews to respond to power outages.”

The two sides have been bargaining since January with the existing collective agreement expiring in February.

Talks continued until mid-March when, after negotiations and mediation provided no new agreement, the union filed strike notice.

At that point the company applied to the B.C. Labour Relations Board in April to have certain services designated as “Essential Services,” and was granted the designation.

FortisBC then, under Section 78 of the B.C. Labour Relations Code, took their offer directly to the voting membership.

“Negotiations weren’t successful, mediation wasn’t successful, so they took it to the members,” said Russell. “The Labour Board counted the ballots and there was a 90.4 per cent return, 88.4 per cent of the membership rejected the offer.”

In mid-May the union began limited job action leading up to FortisBC’s decision Wednesday to lockout their employees and activate the essential services order.

“FortisBC respects legal job action but members were coming to work and not completing their full responsibilities,” said Wagenaar. “The action we took was to ensure safety and reliability for our workers and the public.”

Although there is no schedule to return to the bargaining table both sides in the dispute maintain that they are open to further discussion.

“The lines of communication are open but no negotiations are set,” said Russell. “I anticipate some inconvenience to the public and I don’t think either of us will get a lot of sympathy but we’ll see where it all takes us.”