Sunday, November 1, 2009

Proposed takeover of NB Power by Hydro Quebec.

This past week, the New Brunswick government finally put an end to the speculation that had been raging for a week, and announced that they had reached a Memo of Understanding (MOU) with the Province of Quebec. If completed, the deal would see NB Power purchased by Hydro Quebec (HQ) with NB Power subsequently run as a stand-alone subsidiary of Hydro Quebec. Disturbingly, the deal also announces the intention to phase out Dalhousie Generating Station next year when their current fuel supply contract expires, and it also suggests that the other fossil fueled plants -- Coleson Cove and Belledune, may eventually be phased out as well. This news has had a devastating effect on our NB Power Generation members, particularly those working in Dalhousie, a town that has been hit hard by job losses in recent years.

My plan is to remain calm and focused on the job of representing our members and their interests. It's important to keep in mind that this is a MOU only, and the proposed deal may not go through - there are a lot of things that could scuttle it. Having said that, it's important that we are prepared for all possibilities - we need to cover the bases and make sure we are properly prepared no matter what the outcome.

To that end, our initial action of writing immediately to the Premier as soon as we heard rumours has paid off. If a sale does occur, we have already obtained commitments that 1.) protect the pension plan, 2.) offers employment to all current workers with recognition of their service, 3.) binds the new entity to our existing collective agreements and 4.) also maintains the bargaining rights of the IBEW members.

These initial commitments are huge for the union and its members (there are no protections in those areas for us within the Public Service Labour Relations Act) and they allow us to approach this from a level starting point, instead of having to dig ourselves out of a hole. I don’t think we would have had these commitments if we hadn’t taken immediate action as soon as we heard that a deal might be in the works.

In addition to the above, we have also engaged one of the best labour law firms in Atlantic Canada to work on our behalf as discussions on this move forward. In addition, I am also trying to arrange a high level meeting with Hydro Quebec (I have already spoken briefly with their CEO) in order to seek commitments from them in advance of a potential sale and to look at other options for our fossil fueled generating stations. This is just prudent insurance, in case a deal does go through.

I've also had discussions with senior management of NB Power concerning ways to minimize the impact to the workforce if a station closure does occur. They have committed that they will seek to introduce early retirement, voluntary separation and redeployment programs if it does become necessary to reduce staff.

All of the above actions are just some of the initial steps we've taken. We've got a lot of hard work ahead of us and we'll be keeping members up to date as this situation evolves through updates on this website.

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