CUPE members Carol Lawrence and Jose Van Berkel walk the picket line Saturday in front of the Naramata Centre in support of colleagues who are on strike there.

CUPE members Carol Lawrence and Jose Van Berkel walk the picket line Saturday in front of the Naramata Centre in support of colleagues who are on strike there.

Naramata businesses feeling pinch from strike

Closure of Naramata Centre means thousands of tourists won't materialize in the community, which has caused some to worry

At least one business owner has already been pinched by the temporary closure of the Naramata Centre, while the community’s local politician is worried about what will happen if the facility closes its doors for good.

Unionized staff erected picket lines at the centre on May 15 after the breakdown of contract negotiations, and management then shut down operations on May 26 and cancelled all bookings through June.

The centre, which is aligned with the United Church of Canada, hosts a range of conferences and workshops and offers on-site accommodation. Director of development Jim Simpson said previously the cancellations affected 800 clients.

Cafe Nevermatters owner Angelo Albano said he’s not taking sides in the labour dispute, but, “from a purely business standpoint,” has already noticed its effect his Naramata shop.

“I’ve had some cancellations for dinner, and we rely on the centre for a lot of our coffee business from people staying there,” he said.

“It’s definitely had an impact. It’s not quite quantifiable yet, but, anecdotally, I know it has.”

Albano said the tourist season doesn’t begin in earnest until June, so it’s still too early to say how the open-ended closure will shape the busy season, but it’s the period afterwards he’s most concerned about.

“What the centre does is it provides that additional business that helps us get through the winter. Losing that, there’s no other way to recover that business,” he explained.

Karla Kozakevich, who represents Naramata on the board of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen, said she too is staying neutral in the dispute, but fears what could happen if the two sides don’t reach an agreement.

“I think we’ve got potentially 30-plus people who could be out of jobs permanently from the centre, plus the impact it’s going to have on local businesses,” she said.

“I believe, on average, the centre brings about 4,000 people to the community in the summer, so that’s 4,000 less folks going to the Naramata Store, the coffee house, the Heritage Inn, those types of things,” Kozakevich said.

The on-strike employees agree.

“Half our year’s business (at the centre) comes here for seven weeks in the summer, so all the spillover from those people on a daily basis filters into the businesses in the community,” said Colin Drought, a chef whose position is one of six that management has proposed contracting out to cut costs and keep the facility open.

He and other members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees gathered Saturday outside the centre for a rally to share with the public their side of things and hopefully get management’s ear.

“We want to talk to them. We want to find out what’s going on,” said Drought. “We haven’t heard much lately.”

CUPE officials at the rally said no contract talks are scheduled.





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