Striking forest workers Chris Walling and Dan Gabrielson from Western Forest Product’s Saltair mill in Ladysmith took their message to the streets of Duncan on Oct. 22. (Robert Barron/Citizen)

Striking forestry workers take to streets with no end to dispute in sight

Latest talks break off with no agreement between Western Forest Products and Steelworkers union

Dan Gabrielson and Chris Walling are taking their message to the streets of Vancouver Island.

The men are workers at Western Forest Product’s Saltair mill in Ladysmith and members of the striking United Steel Workers Local 1-1937.

They have been sitting on picket lines in front of their mill since Canada Day and felt they would be more proactive getting their message out to the public by traveling to communities where striking workers live and waving their strike signs along busy streets.

RELATED: Striking loggers receive support at Vancouver Island rally

Last week, the were set up on Government Street in downtown Duncan in front of Charles Hoey Park.

“We’ve been on the streets in Nanaimo for the last few days so we decided to come to Duncan to spread the word,” said Gabrielson as cars honked their horns in support.

“Western Forest Products made $80 million last year but they put 27 concessions they want us to make on the table, with the biggest stumbling blocks involving pensions and benefits, and are not willing to move an inch on them,” he said.

“This issue is not getting enough coverage so we decided to do this.”

Walling said that when they are working, company officials would tell them they were the best workers the company has ever had.

“But then they turn around and treat us like this,” he said. “It isn’t right.”

Approximately 1,500 of WFP’s hourly employees who are members of the USW Local 1-1937, including hundreds at WFP mills in Cowichan Bay, Chemainus and Ladysmith, and employees working for the company’s timberlands operators and contractors, commenced a strike on July 1.

The Steelworkers have stated that its members, who voted 98.8 per cent in favour of striking, started the job action because the company has not seriously addressed union proposals and continues to keep “massive concessions” on the bargaining table as both sides try to negotiate a new collective agreement.

The latest round of negotiations that were held on Oct. 16-20 ended in failure and the union issued a three-page press release stating that WFP “squandered an opportunity to reach a collective agreement… by refusing to move off its unreasonable, unwarranted and unacceptable concessions.”

RELATED: Four days of mediation fail to break four-month strike in the woods

“We did not accept any concessions in this round of bargaining, especially since there is no market evidence on the coast and no company performance that demonstrates that cost-cutting is needed,” the press release said.

“It appears that WFP has not learned that no deal will be reached with their concessions on the table. It also suggests that WFP has no real interest in reaching a deal as they have publicly stated. The bargaining committee is open to further mediation with WFP if they are prepared to make changes in their position.”

A one-sentence statement from WFP said the forest company believes that “the best place for these discussions to occur is at the bargaining table, and we remain available for mediation later this week.”



robert.barron@cowichanvalleycitizen.com

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