Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What are members allowed to do when participating in the public debate on the proposed sale of NB Power?

Many members have been asking if they are allowed to participate in the protest rally or other public debates about the proposed sale of NB Power, and if so, how far can they go? The brief answer is that by all means, you can participate, within limits and by exercising good judgement. IBEW members working for NB Power wear "two hats" - they are members of the public service but they are also ratepayers and private citizens. As private citizens, on your own time and with your own e-mail or computer you can, and should, engage in the public debate about the proposed sale of NB Power. Having said that, there are a few guidelines that I want to pass on to members, because it is not "anything goes".

The following is a summary of a legal opinion from our lawyers:

"The brief answer is that employees are allowed to communicate their feelings as long as they do it in a proper way. Employees can’t do anything that could be considered a strike.

Employees may protest or rally, so long as their actions do not constitute a strike. They may voice their opinions so long as in doing so they do not harass or intimidate anyone, and their actions or speech are not offensive or provocative, nor insulting or embarrassing of the employer in the eyes of the public, not critical or insulting about the employers or managers, or disruptive of the legitimate business of the employer.

In short, employees may express their opinions as long as they exercise good judgement in doing so.

This is true online as well. Employees may voice such opinions in online forums. However, they should keep in mind that off-duty online conduct may be the subject of discipline. This could occur if the postings were offensive or disruptive (as above) or critical of the employer or its employees, or revealed confidential information of the employer."

So in practical terms, what does it mean? It is perfectly OK to say that you don’t think NB Power should be sold, and to tell the facts – that we already deliver the lowest cost, most reliable electricity in the region. It’s Okay to express opinions (like saying our thermal plants should remain in operation) and concerns (what will happen to rates after five years?). Keep it to reasonable debate, don't use personal attacks or give out business secrets (for example, the production cost for power at one of our plants) and you should be Okay. In addition, you shouldn't use NB Power's computers to send e-mails or post things online.

One of the most effective things you can do to express your opinion is to write your local newspaper or your MLA, and let them know your views on this deal.

If you write to your MLA, you should follow up by requesting a face-to-face meeting with the MLA (they are usually in their riding on Mondays). The executive assistant may try to brush you off, or offer to pass your message on for you, but insist they schedule a face-to-face meeting.
When you write to or meet with your MLA, the simplest argument is just to say that the electrical system belongs to the people of New Brunswick, and unless the people of New Brunswick vote that they want to sell it, it should stay in our hands. Regarding the debt, it is not a burden on the people of New Brunswick – NB Power generates revenue and pays its own debt.
In fact, NB Power has paid off more than $1 Billion of debt in the last five years and the various rating services say that the removal of the debt won’t improve the provinces credit rating. In addition, we have the lowest power rates on the East Coast of Canada and the United States and we are one of the most reliable. NB Power has been a key service for New Brunswick, paid for by New Brunswickers and it should remain in our control.

Tips on writing letters, as well as the e-mail addresses for local media outlets, MLA’s and members of Parliament can be found on the IBEW website in the "Take Action" section.

Members have been asking about the protest rally planned for Novemebr 17th at the Provincial Legislature from 12:00 noon to 4:00 pm. I will be one of the speakers at the rally, and any members who are able to attend are encouraged to do so.

PLEASE NOTE: For IBEW Local 37 members that plan to attend the rally and do not already have the day off, please make sure to either book a vacation day or use banked time.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ross, you forgot to mention that NB Power is one of Canada's top 100companies, a few years running, I believe.