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Binding arbitration deal ends Fortis BC lockout of employees in southern Interior
After nearly six months off the job and with Christmas looming, more than 200 locked-out Fortis BC employees have received what they wanted most of all—news they are going back to work.
Their union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers local 213, and the company announced Monday they had reached an agreement to take the outstanding issues in their ongoing and acrimonious labour dispute to binding arbitration.
The workers will start going back as early as today (Tuesday) and will all be back on the job by Friday, said representatives of both the union and the company
The binding arbitration will then take place and IBEW local 213 assistant business manager Rod Russell said he expects both sides will want to expedite the process.
"We are relieved its over," said Russell. "We are disappointed we could not get their on our own, but we're relieved nonetheless."
He said that was also the sentiment he was hearing from the locked out workers walking picket lines outside Fortis facilities in Kelowna
Fortis BC comunications director Joyce Wagenaar, speaking for the company, said Fortis was pleased the union's leadership accepted the company's invitation to go to binding arbitration. That invitation was issued earlier this month after latest round of negotiations broke down.
"We looked at it (after the negotiations broke down) and felt we have to go in a different direction," Wagenaar told the Capital News Monday. "So we issued the invitation for binding interest arbitration."
In a news release issued by Fortis Monday, Michael Mulcahy, executive vice-president of human resources, customer service and corporate services called the return to work and binding arbitration plan a "positive step," to help both the company and its unionized workers move forward.
The arbitrator, Dalton Larson of Vancouver, will look at nine outstanding issues in the labour dispute, including wages, a four-day work week for employees, and an essential service designation for the company's system control centre.
Russell said the latter two issues were added by the company after the lockout started June 26 and perpetuated the dispute.
"They didn't start the lockout but they perpetuated it," he said.
Under the rules of binding arbitration, both sides will make their case concerning each issue to Larson and then he will decide what will be done. As the name implies, his decision will be binding on both parties.
On Friday, leaders of organized labour in B.C., and outgoing NDP leader Adrian Dix, joined locked out workers outside the Fortis BC office on Springfield Road in Kelowna during an early evening rally.
During the rally Dix, the B.C. Federation of Labour's Irene Lanzinger, the president of the Central Okanagan Teacher's Association Susan Bauhart and representatives of other unions blasted Fortis, repeatedly calling it a bully and greedy for not settling with the locked out workers before now.
It was noted the company did settle with the union that represents about 30 of its office workers, COPE local 378, and gave them a contract the IBEW "would love to have." But that same offer was not made to the IBEW workers.
The unionized office workers at Fortis have refused to cross the IBEW picket line during the lock-out.
One interested party that will also be happy with the outcome of the labour dispute will be the City of Kelowna.
Completion of its $14.5 million Bernard Avenue revitalization project has been held up because work on underground gas lines has to be done by the locked out Fortis workers.
That work is slated to be done in early spring.