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BC Hydro pink slips Nelson workers

Seven employees at BC Hydro's Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program in Nelson and Castlegar will be out of work as of January.
BC Hydro's Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program is closing its Nelson and Castlegar offices.

Seven employees at BC Hydro’s Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program offices in Nelson and Castlegar will be out of work as of January, their union says.

The layoffs are among 300 announced last week as the Crown corporation responds to a government-commissioned panel that said Hydro’s staff had too much duplication.

However, in an interview with the Star, COPE 378 local president David Black blasted the move — which will result in the local program run being out of an office in Burnaby — as “political and arbitrary.”

“Contrary to what the report says, there isn’t a lot of fat in BC Hydro,” Black said.  “People who work there — whether it’s keeping the lights on or doing the fish and wildlife programs — are doing good and essential work.”

Black says the affected workers include biologists and a program administrator.

He talked to some of their families last week and said they were “absolutely devastated” by the news. “One woman’s husband worked there for 22 years.”

Black says the move is baffling as the program’s work still needs to be accomplished to ensure BC Hydro maintains its water licenses.

He questioned whether the program would have the same accountability without people on the ground locally.

“It’s an open question. It’s an awfully big risk to BC Hydro overall ... It’s very hurtful because it’s not like they weren’t doing a good job. It seems completely arbitrary and political, which is very difficult for these people to take.”

Black also doubted that the cuts would save any money.

“What’s particularly aggravating is their funding doesn’t come from the BC Hydro operations budget. There are trust funds set up to cover this. [The cuts are] a way of fulfilling direction from government, but it’s not a cost saving.”

Black says the affected workers may have bumping options. Failing that, they will be entitled to severance under their collective agreement.

“If they can’t find a place for them at BC Hydro, perhaps there’s some way they can form a consortium and bid on the work themselves. They’re the experts.”

Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall said closing the local office came as “a huge surprise,” and she has not seen any specific explanation.

She adds it raises red flags about the report that criticized the corporation's staffing.

“I would like see more analysis of that report,” she says. “In our area I feel very confident saying the work BC Hydro has been doing, especially with the Fish and Wildlife Compensation is essential.”

Mungall plans to meet with Hydro and is sending a letter to the energy minister, hoping to convince them to reverse the decision.

The Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program was set up to conserve and enhance fish and wildlife habitat affected by the construction of BC Hydro dams.

No one from BC Hydro was immediately available for comment.