It has been 140 days, or five months, since 30-year-old Scott Ross worked.
“It’s been difficult. I know people have had to defer their mortgages. I know a few people with kids, powerline technicians with kids, have resorted to diets consisting mostly of hot dogs,” he said.
Earning $28-an-hour, his job with FortisBC is supposed to be helping him save money for law school. Ross ran for city council while he was still at UBCO earning his politics, philosophy and economics degree, and is planning on re-entering school one year from September.
Sitting through the five month FortisBC strike was not in the plan.
“It’s delaying your life for a year. I’m 30 years old. When you look back at your life and you realize that you’ve spent five months really not contributing to your career, your goals, even to a company, it impacts you. I don’t even know how I’m going to put this on a resume,” he said.
For families, it has been considerably worse in his view. He’s talking about kids missing out on their hockey season because budgets are so tight. He’s heard of people leaving, accepting work that will take them far from their family.
Powerline technicians and power dispatchers—the people who organize fixing the lines—are the big, sought-after careers in the electrical side of the company. FortisBC has an electrical side and a gas side.
At $39 per hour, a powerline technician would make $312 per day without venturing into overtime; strike pay is $100 per day.
The strike does not preclude working elsewhere. Workers can take on a part-time job, but they are to report to the picket line daily for a four-hour shift.
According to Ross, the submissions FortisBC made to the union indicate powerline technicians are underpaid by 10 per cent. One could earn more working for a contractor, but the work moves constantly and, at least for now, it’s not in Kelowna.
For Bruce Reynolds, an electrician with the company for the last 12 years, the loss of income means major projects won’t get done around the house and the single-mother-of-four his family helps with Christmas bills and her childrens’ extra expenses likely won’t see as big a financial contribution.
Reynolds worked hard for this job and he has a network of people who depend on his income.
A former construction worker, he commuted to Trail every week for four years so his family could stay in the Okanagan and he could secure full-time work with the company.
“I believe that everybody should be able to own a home and set up some kind of roots so they can help the brothers and sisters and daughters and grandchildren when they come around,” he said.
The union has had plenty of support. Here in Kelowna, the firefighters brought over heaters to help with the cold mornings and they’ve had weekly visits from other union members and supporters.
A woman from SunRype, Teamsters 213, came by last week.
“They’ve been a phenomenal union. They’ve actually travelled to all our lines in the Kootenays,” said Ross.
The Steelworkers threw them a parade and barbecue in Trail, marching union members through the streets in their support.
Asked why he isn’t among the 20 per cent of employees on the electrical side who have moved on to other jobs, Ross said it is the principle.
“It’s something you have to take responsibility for,” he said. “If Canada elects a government you disagree with, you don’t leave the country. You try to make it better. You deal with it and you try to make it better.”