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Completion of Bernard Ave roadwork hinging on labour dispute

September 04, 2013 - 2:51 PM

KELOWNA – Up until yesterday completion of the Bernard Avenue revitalization was expected this November, but a lockout at FortisBC has pushed that date back seven months.

While last spring's speedy work on Phase 2 upgrades promised an early finish to the project, City officials now say they're looking at the originally projected completion date of May 2014.

Director of design and construction services Bill Berry says the push back will only affect one block still waiting on electrical work. Utility upgrades from Ellis Street to St. Paul were already completed with the initial underground work through to Richter Street. While that segment of the revitalization project - or Phase 3a - is still ahead of schedule, Berry says the delay between Pandosy and and Ellis Street is frustrating for local shops.

“No one from Fortis will do the work for us,” Berry says.

“This is not a good thing, it's not beneficial to our downtown merchants or driving public.”

Nearly a year has passed since the roadwork first started on Bernard Avenue and its timely completion now hinges on the outcome of union negotiations with FortisBC. Berry hopes the dispute will be resolved by winter time or at the latest, early next year.

But IBEW Local 213 spokesperson Rod Russell says since electrical workers were locked out ten weeks ago, negotiations have not been going smoothly. 

“We said very early on in the dispute there would be collateral damage with customer service.”

Delays to the roadwork shows the dispute is spilling over beyond the lockout, Russell says, along with delays in responding to power outages.

Despite their efforts to compromise, Russell says Fortis walked away from their last mediation in August.

“Their last offer drove us further apart,” he says.

Given that the corporate utility made $49 million last year and recently introduced rate increases which have caused some bills to go up, Russell says a three per cent wage is a fair request.

“It's a human thing -  people need more to live,” he says, especially with the rising price of gas and cost of living.

“They make a lot and are asking to make more.”

Meanwhile, FortisBC spokesperson Neal Pobran says they're concerned a wage increase could impact customer rates. 

“We have been trying to put forward a market competitive offer that balances the needs of our customers.”

Both parties will be negotiating at the B.C. Labour Relations Board this week. Fortis is pushing for an essential services order to decide which utility operations should be maintained during the labor dispute.

To contact the reporter for this story, email Julie Whittet at jwhittet@infotelnews.ca or call (250)718-0428.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2013
InfoTel News Ltd

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