Tentative deal at Western Forest Products operations in B.C.

February 11, 2020

By: The Working Forest Staff

VANCOUVER SUN –A tentative deal has been reached in the dispute between Western Forest Products and the striking United Steelworkers, providing a likely end to a bitter eight-month strike that has been financially devastating to mill workers and forestry-related businesses on Vancouver Island.

“It’s going to take a while to recover from this. But now we can look to the future,” Port McNeill Mayor Gaby Wickstrom said Monday.

According to a report in the Vancouver Sun, the deal comes just days after mediators Vince Ready and Amanda Rogers re-entered talks after pulling out earlier in the week when they said the two sides had no chance of reaching a deal. The pair had been overseeing negotiations between the company and Steelworkers Local 1-1937, which had been on strike for eight months. It’s the longest strike in coastal forest history.

“With the assistance of special mediators, Vince Ready and Amanda Rogers, we have reached a fair and equitable agreement that balances the needs of our employees and our business,” said Don Demens, president and CEO of Western. “This has been a particularly challenging time and I’m pleased that we were able to find common ground through the efforts of all involved.”

The agreement announced Monday morning is tentative, but the union is recommending members ratify the contract.

“Our union is extremely proud of our members’ solidarity in this extended struggle to achieve a fair collective agreement with Western Forest Products and their associated contractors,” said Brian Butler, president of Steelworkers Local 1-1937.

Butler said details of the tentative deal wouldn’t be made public until members had the chance to review and vote, but he did say the agreement doesn’t contain any concessions.

In an email, Butler said he was in Vancouver on Monday to organize when information meetings and ratification votes would be held. He said a schedule with these dates would be out Tuesday.

Babita Khunkhun, Western’s senior director of communications, would also not provided any details of the agreement until it’s ratified but said the company “is very pleased” a deal was reached “after a long weekend” of talks.

When Western’s six mills on the Island will be open again for business will not be clear until after the ratification vote, she said.

“I would say it’s obviously a challenging time for the operating environment. We’ll be looking to resume operations to meet market demand,” Khunkhun said. “We’ll have those plans to share once they are finalized.”

Wickstrom didn’t know the contents of the deal but noted the striking workers were adamant they wanted no concessions on issues such as contracting out and shifts. She also didn’t know the timeline involved but thought it would take several weeks for people to get back to work and even longer for her community to rebound.

“It is going to take a while for people and businesses to recover financially. If you think that they’ll be voting, it will take at least a week or two for that process. Then people will get back to work, so it will probably be three weeks before they get their first paycheque. So there will still be hardship for them,” she said.

Ready and Rogers were sent back into the dispute Thursday when Labour Minister Harry Bains reappointed the pair as special mediators, with additional powers, in the collective bargaining dispute.

“This dispute has taken a huge toll on workers and their families as well as the entire coastal forestry community. We want to see everyone get back on the job,” Bains said. “As minister of labour, I have decided to appoint special mediators Ready and Rogers with additional powers under the Labour Relations Code to help the parties reach an agreement as soon as possible.”

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