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COMMENTARY · 23rd July 2012
Kitimat Daily Staff
With 8 hours of negotiations to go, things in Kitimat look like they are going to get a lot more interesting over the next couple of months.

On July 20th, Rio Tinto Alcan issued a notice of lock out to the Canadian Auto Workers 2301. The previous night, the union voted to give their negotiators a mandate to strike. Throw in the water rights on the Kemano Modernization Project… I mean Kemano Back Up Project along with several other current events and the conclusion is:

Former Mayor Rick Wozney was right.

The word: “power sales” is not thrown around enough these days but the story is well known in Kitimat. Wozney was concerned that, with the right incentive, Alcan would shut down and sell power. The District of Kitimat challenged the original agreement to the water rights but found they could not, as they were not a part of the agreement. In the end, the Provincial Government of British Columbia was taken to court.

Now, the future is the talk of the town. A strike or lock out could be devastating to the local businesses in Kitimat but would also give Rio Tinto Alcan an incentive to close the plant and just sell power during the modernization.

To add to the problem, a strike makes things awkward for workers in the modernization camps who are also unionized. They would likely be labelled “Scab workers” while a strike/lockout is underway.

Bulletins posted on the CAW2301 website have stated in the case of the strike, they will not be picketing any Bechtel Sites. An order from the Labour Relations Board has divided the traffic at Rio Tinto Alcan into two types of traffic; Alcan traffic and KMP traffic. The Alcan Traffic will be going past the strikers, the KMP traffic will not.

In addition, Control Room Operators will still be working in Kemano and the Kitimat power rooms because the electricity produced is considered an essential service.

As far as the power sales issue goes, any dissidence in city hall has been quashed by the actions of Mayor Joanne Monaghan. While there have been many rumours about the timing of the Dismissal of Former Municipal Manager Trafford Hall floating around town, the truth in the matter is it was not his choice to leave, nor was it a mutual decision.

If it had been any one of these, then Hall would not have been able to take his full severance payday, $250,000+ away from the community coffers. Hall was the person at the District Offices who had an understanding of the Power Sales Issue.

Up until earlier this year, there had been a motion on the books to keep an eye on the goings on at Alcan and have the District of Kitimat ready to react. Councillor Corrine Scott Made the motion to remove it. Below are some excerpts from their May 28th COW Meeting.

“When you look at the date of when this was, February 10th, 2003, and it was talking about the Alcan Power Sales. I think if there is anything we need to discuss with regards to Power (etc) in the future, we can put it back on the list. This particular motion I think can easily just be removed,” said Scott. “This Alcan Power Sales, in this particular instance, is not referring to anything that is current.”

Other councillors wanted further information on what this motion was. Even the current Municipal Manager Ron Poole did not know what it was. However, it was Monaghan, who has had the motion explained to her many times in the past who told Council what it was.

“No. I believe the first motion we made on power sales, and I could be wrong, but I think this was the one that said, ‘we want to find out what the agreement was between Alcan and the Province and that’s how it all started and that’s what it was,” said Monaghan

Granted she told Council she could be wrong about the motion, which was good for her because she was.

Today a fully serviced self contained gated community complete with a bar, (with the potential for offsales), restaurants and entertainment facilities is populated by foreign workers. They are ready to take over all the activities of the local Union workers. BC Hydro is currently upgrading the power line to the Terrace Substation for Kitimat. This transmission line has always exported more than it ever imported. The upgrading can only be for one thing. The BC Government has signed the papers allowing RTA to make use of the second tunnel at Kemano.

While the union has promised to negotiate up until the 11th hour, Kitimat sits in Check.