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September 2013

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British Columbia Utility Locks Out Workers

Approximately 240 Vancouver, British Columbia, Local 213 members spent most of their summer on the picket line after FortisBC management locked them out June 26.

The IBEW and the privately-held utility, which provides power to B.C.'s Southern Interior, had just come out of several months of unsuccessful negotiations when the company shut the doors.

"It was unfortunate that the parties were not able to come to an agreement considering the substantial movement we made during negotiations," says Local 213 Business Representative Rod Russell.

Local 213 and the company — which is part of Fortis, Inc., the largest investor-owned utility in Canada — have been in bargaining talks since last January.

The local represents workers in generation, transmission and distribution.

Russell says management was particularly aggressive, with a focus on one key concession: exclusive control over job description language.

Local 213 wanted a voice in developing new job descriptions, a 3 percent annual wage increase and an additional day off in conjunction with a new provisional holiday.

Talks stalled in April. Both parties agreed to an essential service order issued by the provincial labour board, which committed the union and the utility to maintain basic essential services throughout the labour dispute, while allowing the union to engage in limited job actions.

"It let us do some job actions, like refusing to do jobs that didn't endanger the safety of the community like disconnections or capital projects," Russell says.

The company forced a vote on its final offer, which was overwhelmingly rejected by the membership.

After shutting the doors on employees, FortisBC managers began violating the order by performing nonessential work specifically prohibited by the essential service order. For example, the local found managers taking photos of meters for billing purposes to get around the government's definition of meter reading as a nonessential service.

Fueling much of the bad blood, says Russell, is a legacy of management disrespect and on-the-job antagonisms.

"Bullying and a general disregard for the collective agreement are commonplace," Russell said.

The harassment continues on the picket line, with managers telling picketing workers that they are easily replaceable. In one incident, a manager physically assaulted a picketing worker.

"It's a bad attitude that has made it hard to bargain fairly," he says.

Adding insult to injury, the company laid off approximately 20 IBEW members shortly before the lockout.

Local 213 says it wants to resolve the dispute as quickly as possible.

"The truth is, both sides aren't that far apart on the issues," says Local 213 Business Manager Mike Flynn. "We wanted to work it out internally, but the lockout has made it the concern of the entire community."

With FortisBC requesting a 3 percent rate hike in the next year, Russell says workers are asking customers and the broader community to put pressure on the utility to settle a fair contract.

Go to for the latest news on the FortisBC lockout.


Approximately 240 Vancouver, British Columbia, Local 213 members take to the picket line after being locked out by private utility FortisBC.