The graveyard shift at the Chemainus sawmill has already been trimmed and now the Western Forest Products mill, along with other WFP mills, faces the prospect of a strike. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Western Forest Products strike vote results pending

Company and union far apart in negotiations that affect multiple Vancouver Island mills

Results of a strike vote taken by employees of one of the Island’s biggest forest companies are expected to be known tomorrow.

United Steelworkers Local 1-1937 and the company are far apart in negotiations for a new contract at Western Forest Products.

The issues are vast between the two sides, resulting in a stalemate at this stage of negotiations and precipitating the strike vote.

“It was clear Western Forest Products was not going to respond to our proposals in a meaningful way,” said Local 1-1937 President Brian Butler. “They themselves tabled some massive concessions.”

It’s a long list, he added, that includes cutting funding for some employee benefits.

A local agreement at the Chemainus sawmill, already affected by a curtailment in production with the elimination of the graveyard shift for the time being, for a team concept is on the chopping block.

“Members work in teams which include a number of jobs and they rotate on those jobs each work day,” explained Butler. “Because of the high degree of training the members have in rotating to many jobs it produces more production, a better product and higher profits for the company. From a safety standpoint, the job rotation is ergonomically beneficial for the worker leading to lower injury rates among the workers and lower WCB costs for the company. Employees are paid the highest wage rate of the individual jobs within their team.”

The company claims soft markets are contributing to some of its reduction proposals, but Butler refutes that.

“Their motivation is what company’s always is: to get the cheapest deal possible,” he added.

“Suffice to say across the company the workers are very dissatisfied how WFP conducts themselves and addresses workers. Hopefully, it doesn’t end up in a labour dispute. They’ll have time to respond to us after a vote and get things back on track.”

The contract covers workers at WFP’s Nanaimo, Alberni, Chemainus, Cowichan Bay and Ladysmith/Saltair sawmills and number of logging operations throughout the Island. WFP Ladysmith and WFP Value Added Chemainus employees are represented by the Public and Private Workers of Canada and not involved in current negotiations.

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