The ongoing labour dispute between Western Forest Products, (WFP) and United Steelworkers Local 1-1937, (USW) is nearing the six month mark, and there is no indication of an impending agreement.
Negotiations between WFP and USW broke down after 14 hours of negotiations on the weekend of November 16 – 17. WFP had a proposal on the table, but USW rejected it outright. No further discussions are scheduled.
In a bargaining update released Monday, November 18, USW referred to the company’s offer as a “bare-bones proposal” and said it doesn’t address issues such as “appropriate wages” as USW says its last proposal was for four years and included increases of three per cent the first two years, followed by increases of 2.5 per cent the following two.
In a press release issued the same day, Don Demens, WFP’s president and CEO, said the company offered a five-year deal, which included a $2,000 signing bonus and wage increases of two per cent for the first four years and 2.5 per cent in the fifth year. According to Demens, the company previously dropped pension plan alternatives that USW 1-1937 opposed, and further, took all remaining proposals the union had contention with off the table, including the modernizing agreements dating back to 1986, which would “support future employment.” The offer from Western is in line with other forestry industry collective bargaining agreements and provides “certainty” for stakeholders, the press release said.
For workers on strike like Craig Rowlinson, there is no certainty.
“I think eventually something will happen, but my concern now is I don’t have enough information on what’s happening. We went on strike for the pension, contracting issues, shift differential, and all that. There’s not enough information out there now besides the letter Western set out, and the union’s rebuttal, but it doesn’t actually address what we’re waiting for any more,” Rowlinson said.
“The uncertainty is the hardest part. When you’re laid off for summer heat or winter snow, you know that once those situations change, we’ll be back. Right now, nobody knows those situations. That makes it a lot harder.”
Rowlinson has worked in the logging industry for 25 years. He’s been on strike before, but says this one is more prolonged than others.
“It has a long term effect on everybody — even as far as planning your future. In a couple months I have to remortgage, and those things start to weight on you. There’s thousands of families on the Island under the same situation as all of us standing here,” Rowlinson said.
The strike has consequences that reach beyond WFP and USW. Truckers and haulers who carry forest products have been impacted, as have local businesses, since striking workers have less available income to spend. The Town of Ladysmith signed on to a letter with other impacted municipalities urging WFP and USW to come to a mutually beneficial resolution.
Rowlinson said that workers are left with few other job options. He pointed to curtailments at Mosaic Forests, and Teal Jones, as well as a downturn in resource extraction jobs in Alberta.
“As someone that works in these kinds of conditions, on the western side of Canada, those jobs are gone with everything going on,” Rowlinson said. “Any resource based industry is kind of like that… there’s so many factors, and unfortunately, we don’t control any of that.”
“I don’t think there’s anybody — the companies, the unions, or the workers — that don’t want to be at work right now. But, each have their own reasons of how to get there.”
– With files from Karl Yu