They’ve all been working at Island Generation since 2000 and now they’re locked out. From the left: Steve Harrington

Locked out workers question gas plant’s safety

Locked out workers at the gate say the company wants to dismantle a savings plan that has been in place since the facility opened

Locked out employees of Campbell River’s Island Generation Plant say BC Hydro should be alarmed about potential safety issues at the natural gas-fired facility.

Frank Sputek, vice president of Local 1123 of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union (CEP), says: “BC Hydro is paying the owner, Capital Power Corporation, $150,000 a day for this facility to be ready to produce and deliver electricity into the B.C. power grid.

“Hydro continues to pay that despite the fact that 14 of us are outside and four management personnel are inside. Our concern is for the safe operation of the plant if they try to fire it up.”

Sputek says the conditions of Hydro’s Electricity Purchase Agreement with the Alberta-based power company should allow it to implement a “force majeure” to help end the lock out. A force majeure is a common clause in a contract that frees both parties from their obligations when an extraordinary event occurs.

The natural gas plant, the largest power generation facility on the island, is currently in “dispatch mode” which means it is idle but must be capable of generating 275 mega watts of electricity within 24 hours. Sputek says the notion of the four management employees starting up the plant on their own is frightening.

Capital Power locked out its 14 employees Oct. 30. CEP Local 1123 President Ian Simpson says: “After six months of fruitless negotiations we gave the employer 72 hour strike notice on Oct. 25. Then we immediately applied for mediation.”

“We worked through the weekend to secure a government appointed mediator for Nov. 1,” says CEP National Representative Dave Schaub. “This action allowed us to call off the strike. However, the employer said they were not available until two weeks later.”

Simpson says the union’s application for a mediator is still before the Labour Relations Board.

The company has a different take on events leading up to its lock out. Capital Power’s chief negotiator Richard Williams tells the Mirror the union was inflexible about meeting dates and that the serving of strike notice forced the company’s hand. “There really aren’t any next steps,” Williams says. “We are at an impasse.”

Williams says he is happy to talk about “process,” but refuses to discuss what issues are keeping the two sides apart. Simpson says: “We haven’t agreed on any wage increases and the employer continues to demand concessions.”

Locked out workers at the gate say the company wants to dismantle a savings plan that has been in place since the facility opened in 2000. The company contributes to the unregistered retirement savings plan. Dismantling the plan is not an option, the workers say.

At deadline, BC Hydro had not responded to the Mirror’s questions about the status of the utility’s EPA with the Alberta company.