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Port Coquitlam workers get first contract after three-year strike: union

IBEW 213 is welcoming a Canadian Industrial Relations Board ruling that LTS Solutions, a subsidiary of Ledcor, failed to bargain in good faith.
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Unionized workers on strike against Ledcor man a picket line along Clarke Street and Vintner in Port Moody.

Unionized telecommunications workers in Port Coquitlam who've been on strike for three years will soon have a collective agreement after a ruling found their employer was bargaining in bad faith.

"This is a monumental decision, a Section 80 under the Canadian Labour Code — it hasn't happened in a very long time" said IBEW 213 business manager Robin Nedila, in lauding the Nov. 10 ruling by the Canadian Industrial Relations Board (CIRB.

There are only 65 workers left in the bargaining unit out of 238, after the long and divisive strike over a first collective agreement, with many former LTS Solutions Ltd. employees taking other jobs or receiving strike pay, while the next steps have yet to be worked out for a back-to-work protocol.

However, Nedila said the ruling is good news for unions, especially workplaces that are trying to get unionized.

"This is obviously an important decision for our workers and workers in general," Nedila said.

"It’s what we’ve been saying all along, we feel vindicated in that decision, it’s just a start in what we hope are more changes to come."

The ruling comes five years after workers employed by LTS Solutions Ltd., part of Ledcor Group, certified as a local under the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW 213)

The employees sought a first collective agreement with the company to improve working conditions, job security and wages but were handed an offer that would have given the employer "unilateral control over wages," the ruling states, .

"The principal reason for the board’s intervention is the employer’s lack of good faith bargaining at least for the period since it tendered an offer to the union on Sept. 17, 2019)," the ruling states.

Prevented 'meaningful' bargaining

The company advanced the position that the union didn't accept the realities needed to stay in business.

It wrongly told some workers they weren't members of the bargaining and dismissed 31 workers, an action that ultimately sparked the Oct.1, 2019 strike.

The company told the labour board the union’s section 80 referral was "an abuse of process," and, while three of four of the union's unfair labour practice claims were dismissed, the panel decided to impose a collective agreement due to the employers' failure to recognize the union.

"The employer’s actions have neutralized the union’s ability to participate in a meaningful way in collective bargaining," the ruling stated.

A back to work protocol will be implemented and a mediator will report on what issues remain unresolved.

Federal laws to protect workers needed

Dustin Brecht, IBEW 213 assistant business manager and lead organizer, said the workers shouldn't have had to wait five years to have a collective agreement and said the federal government needs to implement laws to prevent such a situation from occurring again among federally-regulated businesses.

"When you don't have anti-scab legislation or first contract legislation, there’s nothing to compel an employer to negotiate. An employer can’t just ignore an employee's union of choice and not bargain without consequences," Brecht said.

Over several months, the strike spilled onto streets in Port Coquitlam and Port Moody, where workers waved signs, and there was even a lawsuit by the company, citing harassment of replacement workers.

Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West has issued a congratulations to the union, telling the Tri-City News that he joined workers on the picket line a number of times. 

"That fight that they are in is really about the right to collectively bargain which is a guaranteed right in Canada, which is also the foundation on which we built a middle class in Canada." West said, adding "at the end of the day all they were trying to do is to make a decent living for their families."

I was proud to stand on the picket line with these workers in Port Coquitlam. Their fight wasn’t just for themselves, it was for every person trying to provide a decent living for their families through a collective agreement. Congratulations to @IBEW213! https://t.co/bnfkYbmL43

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