Western Forest Products workers’ union is expected to head back to the table with the company this week for mediated talks in Nanaimo, says the head of the union.
United Steelworkers 1-1937 members, on strike since July 1, will be meeting with WFP and mediators Amanda Rogers and Vince Ready on Thursday, Dec. 12, according to Brian Butler, union president. Talks will consist of face-to-face meetings, followed by the parties separating and mediators going back and forth between the two, trying to address “tough issues,” he said.
Workers are hoping conditions they deem unsafe are addressed, including alternate shifts and long hours in compressed work schedules, Butler said.
“Instead of working Monday to Friday, eight hours a day, it is working four 10-hour shifts, but what happens in manufacturing is you take those two 10-hour shifts and have a day shift and afternoon shift…” said Butler. “Now instead of going to work at 7 a.m. like you‘re used to, now you’re going to work at 5 a.m.…
“It compresses your time between shifts, so basically, you have time to come home, eat, say hi to your spouse and go to bed. There is no ability to volunteer in the community or even time with kids. So it has impacts on families, impacts on fatigue and safety in the workplace, so that’s just one example.”
On the logging side, Butler said there are four days on, four days off shifts, which are 11.6 hours a day and when you factor in a logger who has to travel to the work site hours either way, you can have 14-plus hour days and that can be fatiguing, especially in an industry with an aging workforce.
He said there are also issues with the company drug and alcohol policy, where workers can be terminated for having any trace amount in their system, which is an “arbitrary process” which isn’t applied fairly.
The union is willing to adjust its demands if it sees progress at the table, however, Butler said.
“If you make some headway in one area, you can modify your positions in another,” Butler said. “It’s just we’ve been stuck on this one area, around the alternate shifts, around drug and alcohol policy. There are still issues around [long-term disability] and the funding of LTD, but if we get rid of some of the bigger issues, we’re able to resolve them, obviously, we’re able to modify positions on other proposals and I don’t think it’s the other proposals that are the issue. I think we can get through them, once we get through these more difficult issues.”
In a statement, Western Forest Products confirmed the sides are set to meet Thursday, but said it couldn’t comment further out of respect for a media blackout during mediation.