The Electrical Worker online
July 2013

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Outside Line Workers Win with Team Bargaining

It is Union Bargaining 101: there is power in numbers. So when three IBEW locals representing workers at Emera Utility Services in Atlantic Canada prepared for contract bargaining early this spring, they decided to come together at the negotiating table.

"It wasn't a radical idea," says First District International Representative Brian Matheson. "We had three very similar contracts with the same company, so why not combine them?"

The more than 100 Emera workers do installation and repair work for Bell Aliant — Eastern Canada's major telecommunications provider — in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

The technicians are represented by three locals — Fredericton, New Brunswick, Local 37; Charlottetown, P.E.I., Local 1432; and Halifax, Nova Scotia, Local 1928. All three had separate contracts with Emera, first bargained when the company was awarded a repair and installation contract by Bell Aliant in 2009.

Business managers and First District staff said that merging their efforts and bargaining for one contract across Atlantic Canada made more sense. Local 37 Assistant Business Manager Claude Richard, who headed up negotiations, says the collective approach to bargaining helped strengthen the team as a whole.

"I think we all learned from this experience and forged better ties with one and other. We emerged from this experience stronger and more united than when we entered," he said.

Richard says it also gave IBEW leaders from different provinces the opportunity to compare notes and help everyone get a better picture of what is going on across the industry.

Management was also excited by the opportunity to streamline the bargaining process.

"They said they had hoped something like this could happen, but never dreamed it was possible," Richard said.

In the end, the team approach paid off. Despite tough economic times across Atlantic Canada, Emera workers maintained their competitive wages and benefits. In April, the contract was overwhelmingly ratified.

The Code of Excellence was also raised during negotiations. While it was not officially adopted, Richard says that he continues to educate members and management on the importance of living up to the code's promise to work safely and provide professional and quality service.

"I'm really proud of our people," he says. "They realize that they have to come in on time and put in a full day's work in order to hold on to the gains they've won."

IBEW leaders say that they hope the union's success with team bargaining at Emera will inspire other locals in similar situations to follow suit.

"Particularly with companies that are spread out across a particular region where we have members in different locals, this approach makes a lot of sense," says Matheson.


Last spring, three locals from Atlantic Canada bargained with Emera Utility Services as a single team for the first time. From left, front row, are: Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Local 1432 Business Manager Ray McBride; Halifax, Nova Scotia, Local 1928 Business Manager Jeff Richardson; Emera Labour Relations Manager Wendy Doane; Area Manager Mike Daigle and Fredericton, New Brunswick, Local 37 Business Manager Ross Galbraith; back row, First District International Representative Brian Matheson; Local 37 member Nick Law; Local 37 Assistant Business Manager Claude Richard.