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Strike Vote at Emera-Owned Grand Bahama Power

Yesterday an island-wide blackout. Today 88 of 89 vote to strike

by Miles Howe

Trouble in Paradise. (Photo: Ginger Me)
Trouble in Paradise. (Photo: Ginger Me)

It would appear as though there is significant upheaval occurring on the island of Grand Bahama, and once again, Emera, the Nova Scotia-based power company, is in the thick of it. Following an island-wide blackout yesterday, which rumour initially ascribed to “industrial unrest” (but which a Grand Bahama Power Company (GBPC) press release blames on damage to the transmission line), today the Commonwealth Electrical Workers Union (CEWU) voted overwhelmingly to strike against the GBPC. 89 of 111 members were in attendance for this afternoon's strike vote, and 88 voted to strike.

The CEWU's bone of contention with Emera-owned GBPC is, according to union president Leslie Lightbourne, the wrongful firing of an individual with 40 years of service with the power company. Lightbourne notes that the individual was terminated for spilling one barrel of oil, at a market value, at time of spillage, of $179 US.

“Our contract...calls for a verbal warning...and after that, three written [warnings]. They didn't follow that guideline, they just fired the guy outright.” says Lightbourne. “Now if you put a $179 value on oil...that you can suck up and use again...I mean, come on now. That don't warrant firing somebody with 40 years service. This guy is 60.”

This recent firing is not an isolated incident, according to Lightbourne, and is merely indicative of policies that the new owners of the GBPC are ramming through, without consulting the CEWU.

“They have put laws in place without coming to the union and negotiating.” says Lightbourne. “They are saying now, if you spill a tank you will be suspended for three to five days, pending investigation, and up to termination. Our contract doesn't say that. Our contract speaks about minor breaches, and major breaches. And if its a major breach, the company and the union has to sit down and look at all the particulars to say whether or not its a major breach.”

The news comes in the backdrop of Emera's ongoing construction of the West Sunrise plant. West Sunrise stands to go online with 52 Megawatts of Diesel-generated power in the late summer of 2012, according to the GBPC website. The problem is, according to Lightbourne, union members are being made to resign their positions with the CEWU, and join up with something called “Emera Utilities Services” before Emera will hire them to work at West Sunrise. Lightbourne calls this good old fashioned union-busting, and the CEWU has put an injunction on Emera, with a court case scheduled for “some time in May”.

The Bahamian government appears to be taking serious note of the situation, and the Minister of Labour is scheduled to meet with both Lightbourne and Nova Scotia-export Sarah MacDonald, President and CEO of the GBPC, in the afternoon of March 1st.

As of press time, no representative from the GBPC was available for comment.

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