BRITISH COLUMBIA - Independent strike mediators for Western Forest Products (WFP) workers' strike have pulled away from attempts at negotiating. They say neither side is ready for a deal.
In early July we wrote about how 3,000 Western Forest employees walked off the job after negotiations between the company and the United Steelworkers union broke down.
“It is extremely disappointing that the USW has chosen to take strike action," said WFP president Don Demens in a press release. "After cancelling scheduled bargaining sessions and refusing mediation, it’s clear that the USW is intent on inflicting damage to the coastal forest industry, which already faces significant market challenges, including having to pay the highest softwood lumber duties for shipments to the United States of any jurisdiction in Canada and the loss of market share in Japan due to Japanese government subsidies for their domestic industry."
United Steelworkers says its members voted 98.8 percent in favor of striking because Western Forest has not seriously addressed union proposals, reported the Coast Reporter. The union believes an agreement can be reached quickly if talks resume, said the Coast Reporter.
The union is seeking a three-year deal to replace a recently-expired five-year deal. Wages and benefits cannot be agreed upon, as well the implementation of a new drug and alcohol policy the union says is targeting employees for "simply having trace amounts of THC or marijuana in their system."
Western Forest says the strike comes at a challenging time for the company. With the exception of one facility, all production in Canada is shutdown. The company's two facilities in the U.S. are still operational.
Demens expressed disappointment in the mediators' decision to withdraw.
“We are disappointed that despite previous proposals offering superior wage and contract provisions to what the USW and the forest sector have agreed to throughout British Columbia we have been unable to reach a negotiated settlement. We will continue to explore all options available to bring an end to the prolonged USW strike and have reached out to the Ministry of Labour to seek clarification on next steps."
Rick Nelson, first vice-president of USW Local 1-1937, stated, “It is truly unfortunate that WFP has put corporate greed over our members’ right to have safe and secure jobs," said USW VP Rick Nelson, reported Canadian Forest Industries. It is clear to the union that WFP’s refusal to move on a single issue dating back to November is at the centre of the mediators’ withdrawal.”
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