Western Forest Products workers represented by United Steelworkers Local 1-1937, including employees at Nanaimo’s Duke Point sawmill, have begun strike action.
According to a press release, the union, which represents some 1,500 hourly employees and 1,500 employees working for company timberland operators and contractors in the province, began a work stoppage Monday at 3:45 p.m., which affects all union-certified manufacturing and timberland operations in B.C. The previous collective agreement expired in mid-June and the two sides had been negotiating since April.
Western Forest Products has mills in Nanaimo, Ladysmith, Chemainus, the Cowichan Valley and Port Alberni and timberlands up and down Vancouver Island and at Powell River.
The union issued 72-hour strike notice on June 28 and according to Western Forest Products, the company had applied to the B.C. Labour Relations Board on June 25 for mediation and made numerous requests to meet with the union and mediator.
Susan Dolinski, Western’s vice-president of corporate affairs, said the coastal forest industry is enduring “very challenging market conditions” and lumber prices are half of what they were a year ago.
“In addition, the markets for selling that lumber have been weak and that’s primarily, in the U.S., due to weather,” said Dolinksi. “Those issues, compounded also by the disproportionately high amount of duties that the coast pays on the lumber that we ship to the U.S., because of the softwood lumber dispute, and the fact that one of our key customers is in Japan and the Japanese government there is subsidizing its lumber industry, which is further eroding our market share.”
Dolinksi said Western has taken down time earlier, with three of its mills down in June and the strike action, on top of the market conditions, will really have an impact on people and communties on the coast.
Dolinksi declined to discuss details about the agreement, saying the company prefers to do negotiating at the table.
Brian Butler, USW Local 1-1937 president, hasn’t responded to a request for comment yet, but in a notice to its membership, the union said it has entered into a strike because the company hasn’t addressed the union’s proposals seriously and “continues to keep massive concessions on the bargaining table that threaten” workers. The move was not made lightly, said the union, and the company must “seriously address the membership’s proposals” and remove all of its concessions entirely.
Dolinski said agreements have been reached in B.C.’s northern and southern interior regions, where United Steelworkers, Council of Northern Interior Forest Employments Relations and Interior Forest Labour Relations Association have ratified new deals.
“We’re hopeful that on that basis the USW will agree to meet in the coming days,” said Dolinski.