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UPDATED: Agreement ends FortisBC lockout of 225 electrical workers

Kyra Hoggan
By Kyra Hoggan
December 16th, 2013

Both sides of the FortisBC lockout will be getting an early Christmas present: an end to what has been a long and bitter parting of ways.

Mike Flynn, business manager of IBEW local 213, said the 225 locked out electrical workers should be looking at an immediate return to work, with some back on the job as soon as this afternoon.

“We have come to terms that the parties will refer the dispute to a “Binding Interest Arbitration”,’ Flynn said, explaining this means there can be no failure of negotiations – both sides will have to accept the arbitrator’s decision no matter what.

“The dispute, for all practical purposes, is over.”

A FortisBC spokesperson was equally pleased with end to the labour dispute.

“We are pleased that the union leadership has accepted our invitation,” said Michael Mulcahy, executive vice-president, human resources, customer service and corporate services in a written release.

“This is a positive step. We’ll be welcoming our employees back in the coming days and now both parties can start to move forward.”

The IBEW Local 213 represents employees various generation, transmission and distribution operations, including power line technicians, electricians and system power dispatchers from Creston to the south and Central Okanagan.

IBEW also represents employees on the gas side of FortisBC in a different collective agreement.

However, the gas employees were not impacted by this job action.

FortisBC and IBEW Local 213, without a contract since January 31, 2013, solved nothing at the bargaining table through the spring.

When the union started its job slowdown action, the company responded by locking the workers out June 26.

After months of bargaining, and two rejected votes by the union membership, FortisBC and the IBEW Local 213 decided to enter Binding Interest Arbitration, with the outcome forming the new collective agreement.

IBEW Local 213 Business Manager Rod Russell said no arbitration dates have been agreed to by the parties.

Flynn said that part of the process could begin as early as the first part of January 2014.

“We’d much prefer a negotiated settlement with the employer, but we’re into the six month of this dispute. This was the only avenue that was going to break this dispute,” Flynn said.

“I’m happy to say that, rather than have the Labour Board appoint an arbitrator, the parties were able to agree on one themselves, namely Mr. Dalton Larson.”

FortisBC said employees will return to work beginning Friday, December 20.

“We did not expect this dispute to go on this long,”  Flynn said.

“Our people are looking forward to going back to work. All of our people are professionals and will conduct themselves as professionals when they are back on the job.”

Flynn closed by expressing gratitude for the support of organized labour groups throughout the region, as well as the residents themselves.

“Community support has been terrific.”

Binding Interest Arbitration is an established labour practice, which sees a neutral third party resolve the outstanding issues between the two parties.

The company invited the IBEW 213 (electric) to Binding Interest Arbitration on December 6.

The union provided a counter proposal, which led to discussions and a final agreement Monday (December 16).

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