Chemainus sawmill has been idle since July 1 during the United Steelworkers Union labour dispute with Western Forest Products. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Talks break down between Steelworkers, Western Forest Products

Strike now in its third month

Talks to end the strike at Western Forest Products on Sept. 13 ended abruptly with no deal, and both sides blaming each other for the impasse.

A bargaining unit from the United Steelworkers, Local 1-1937 met with mediators Vince Ready and Amanda Rogers and company officials in Nanaimo where the union said it tabled a revised set of proposals for the forest company to consider, including a revised wage proposal.

But local union president Brian Butler said that after hours of negotiations, the company’s position remained unchanged with “massive concessions” remaining at the table and the company’s refusal to address the union’s issues in any significant way.

He said that while officials at WFP have publicly claimed they were working in earnest to prepare for the mediation and that they want to reach a deal, their actions at the bargaining table, the Labour Relations Board, in the courts and in mediation tell a far different story.

“WFP is not bargaining and is using an American style, bargaining-by-litigation strategy which messages that they are interested in bargaining to the media, but are actually bent on inflicting damage to the union and its members,” Butler said.

“It is a strategy that will fail. The union knows that mediation is needed and we want to reach an agreement, but WFP’s complete lack of movement, numerous concessions, outstanding and ongoing LRB applications and court litigation have made mediation pointless at this time.”

Don Demens, president and CEO of WFP, said the union withdrew from mediation on Sept. 13 with the company and the mediators, and the Steelworkers said they would not be returning to the talks.

“We are disappointed that talks have broken off and firmly believe that resuming discussions with the assistance of an independent mediator is the best way for both parties to resolve our differences,” Demens said.

“It’s surprising that the United Steelworkers continue to refuse to give the mediation process the opportunity to work, given what is at stake for our employees, customers and the communities in which we operate.”

Approximately 1,500 of WFP’s hourly employees who are members of the United Steelworkers Local 1-1937, including hundreds at WFP mills in Cowichan Bay and Chemainus, and 1,500 employees working for the company’s timberlands operators and contractors in B.C., commenced a strike on Canada Day.

The strike affects all of the company’s Steelworkers certified manufacturing and timberlands operations in B.C.

The Steelworkers have stated that its members, who voted 98.8 per cent in favour of striking, started the job action because the company has not seriously addressed union proposals and continues to keep “massive concessions” on the bargaining table as both sides try to negotiate a new collective agreement.

The company has said the strike is taking place at a “very challenging time” for the industry, which is facing a market downturn due to low lumber prices and high costs because of the softwood lumber duties.

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