Hydro Ottawa strike holds up work on 2 Trillium Line stations
The two-month-old Hydro Ottawa strike is interfering with work on the Trillium rail line to Ottawa's south end as two stations lack permanent power connections.
City staff are still hoping the line will be ready by the end of the year, but with no power at Dow's Lake and South Keys stations, they will have to rely on a "very large generator" as they get them ready for the public.
"Really the holdup here is to get that permanent power so we can continue commissioning of the station," said Michael Morgan, director of the city's rail construction program.
"We had some mitigation measures, in terms of putting up a temporary generator that we can use to commission the electrical systems, but at the end of the day, to put a system into service, we want permanent power to the stations."
Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper called it "the one concerning thing" he heard during Tuesday's LRT sub-committee meeting, which outlined progress on the Trillium Line as well as the east and west extensions of the Confederation Line.
The timeline for contractor TransitNEXT to hand over the Trillium Line to the city is late 2023, following delays partly related to slow progress on signal testing.
Morgan said that work is being powered separately and is not affected by the strike.
It is unclear who will pay for the generator and how much it will cost. As of now, there is no decision on whether more than one generator will be needed.
The union representing Hydro Ottawa workers who've been on strike since the end of June said this could all be avoided with a deal at the bargaining table.
"The city wants to get these projects rolling, and once our folks get back, we'll make up time," said Mike Hall, business representative for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 636.
He said running a generator on that scale can't come cheap.
"I worked in the industry long enough to know this isn't your hand-held Honda generator we're talking about here," said Hall.
"It takes a lot of work to set these up, lots of money invested, and it would be far better off to get the permanent install done right away."
Hall sees some reason for optimism as the parties negotiate under non-binding mediation. He said each side made two offers in a meeting last week.
"The day started out great," said Hall. "Of course, the goal of a mediator is to get both sides to move a little bit, and he certainly did. Both sides did move."
He said the union was originally pushing for a 16-per-cent wage increase over a four-year deal, while the company was at 13. Now that gap has narrowed to 15 and 14 per cent, according to Hall.
"We're one per cent apart — it's not far," he said.
Hall said wages are now the only outstanding issue in the dispute. "We have a tentative agreement on everything else," he said. Hydro Ottawa broke off negotiations, according to Hall, while the union remains ready to bargain.
Hydro Ottawa spokesperson Josée Larocque said talks were paused after the union declined to bring the company's "very fair and competitive" sixth overall offer to its full membership for a vote.
The company's offer actually works out to 14.74 per cent when compounded over the term of the agreement, she said.
"As a private company who provides an essential public service, Hydro Ottawa is heavily regulated and is required to act in the public's interest," she said.
"That includes negotiating a balanced and responsible agreement which recognizes its employees' contributions and the impact on our customers' electricity rates."
Arthur White-Crummey is a reporter at CBC Ottawa. He has previously worked as a reporter in Saskatchewan covering the courts, city hall and the provincial legislature. You can reach him at [email protected].
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