Published in The Electrical Worker, September 2011
Local 258 has been a force in British Columbia's life since its chartering in 1967. The local represents members in the utility, outside line, manufacturing, utility arborist and traffic control industries throughout the nearly 365,000-square-mile province.
About half of Local 258 members are employed by BC Hydro, the province's publicly-owned utility.
"We represent workers from British Columbia's western border on the Pacific Ocean to Alberta on the east, north to the Yukon down to our southern border with Washington, Idaho and Montana," says Local 258 Business Manager Doug McKay.
From clearing trees on utility rights of way, controlling traffic on construction sites, building and maintaining transmission lines and operating power plants to maintaining locks and dams on the massive 1,200-mile Columbia River, the local's diverse membership is apportioned into six geographically-based units with elected chairs who form the local's executive board.
"We pride ourselves in our service to our members," says Local 258 President Michelle Laurie. That means holding between 25 and 40 membership meetings a month throughout the province. "It's a daunting task," says Laurie, "but our members know who we are."
Members of Local 258 maintain BC Hydro's 30 integrated hydroelectric generating stations, two gas-fired thermal power plants and one combustion turbine station, totaling installed generating capacity of more than 11,000 megawatts. These facilities supply 70 percent of BC Hydro's power and contribute to British Columbia's production of 90 percent of all of Canada's hydroelectric power.
In preparation for the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, Local 258 members rebuilt the distribution line along Highway 99 (the Sea-to- Sky Highway) into Whistler Mountain, the site of alpine, Nordic and sliding events. Local 258 members were on around-the-clock standby during the games to ensure there were no power interruptions.
More than 100 local union members installed underground and overhead cables to deliver "greener" power to Olympic venues from normal distribution lines, eliminating the exhaust-spewing generators that have polluted the atmosphere at prior games. Adapting to changing conditions is woven into the local's fabric.
In 1961, privately-held BC Electric and the provincially-owned British Columbia Power Commission merged into BC Hydro. The new entity employed bargaining unit members of several IBEW locals. Local 258 was formed in 1967 to put all bargaining unit members under one roof to negotiate more effectively with BC Hydro. Private sector power line construction maintenance work was still divided between the six locals, but was consolidated under Local 258's jurisdiction in 1987.
Local 258 initiated an aggressive organizing drive and organized 100 percent of the outside sector in the province under one master agreement.
In the mid-1980s, Local 258 took on representation of tree trimmers and some traffic control companies. These two jurisdictions expanded considerably as the local worked to improve training and working conditions in the sectors. In 1990, Local 264, representing manufacturing workers, merged into Local 258.
In a 2007 issue of the IBEW Journal, Leon Arishenkoff, a Local 258 shop steward, discussed the benefits shared by Canada and the U.S. from hydroelectric dams maintained by his fellow union members (See "Union-Made Power Turns Darkness to Dawn on Columbia River"). The 1964 Columbia River Treaty between Canada and the U.S. mandated the construction of three dams to regulate the flow of the river and end the annual threat of flood damage in British Columbia, Washington and Oregon.
One of five Keenleyside Dam lock keepers who maintain the only navigable lock in Western Canada, Arishenkoff says, "The dams provide not only good-paying jobs, but incredible agricultural opportunities in the U.S. and thousands of megawatts of clean energy for both nations." Transmitting those megawatts can be challenging to power line technicians—outside linemen—who often spend brutal winters chipping ice from cables and straddling treacherous terrain to keep power coming. Local 258 has set a high standard in extensive education of power line technicians. The local opened the Electrical Industry Training Institute and incorporated it into a limited company in 1997.
EITI provides the only classroom portion of apprenticeship training for power line technicians and for utility arborists in British Columbia, and offers a wide range of safety, substation and generation training. Last year, EITI opened a subsidiary in the U.S.A.
To better embrace the growing diversity of occupations and workers represented, the officers convene shop stewards meetings every two years and strategic planning sessions every four years directly after union elections. The Hotline, Local 258's newspaper, and its Web site keep members connected across the province.
Local 258 enjoys a high-profile, progressive image in the province, encouraging members to engage in politics at all levels within and outside the labor movement.
From winning a United Way Spirit Award for community involvement to its presence at the national day of mourning to commemorate workers killed on the job to a rally on the U.S.-Canada border in support of union members in Wisconsin, solidarity flows through the local union's life.