British Columbia

The forestry strike is over: Union members accept agreement with Western Forest Products

More than 3,000 Vancouver Island forestry workers have been on the picket lines since July 1.

More than 3,000 Vancouver Island forestry workers have been on the picket lines since July 1

After more than seven months on the picket lines, a tentaive deal between between Western Forest Products and United Steelworkers has now been ratified by union members. (USW 1-1937/Facebook)

More than 3,000 Vancouver Island forestry workers will no longer be on the picket lines now that union members have ratified a tentative agreement with Western Forest Products (WFP).

Union forestry workers walked off the job on July 1 and a tentative agreement was reached between the union and the company on Monday.

The United Steelworkers Local 1-1937 (USW) said in a statement that deal was ratified by union members Saturday afternoon with 81.9 per cent support.

"Our membership has stood up and pushed back against a company that was bent on breaking our local union. They picked the wrong fight, with the wrong local union," USW Local 1-1937 president Brian Butler said in a statement.

Highlights of the agreement, according to the union, include increases to life insurance and other benefits, health and safety language improvements, an allowance for safety boots, and controls on WFP's drug and alcohol policy.

Vancouver Island union members show their discontent with Western Forest Products in November 2019. (Facebook/USW 1-1937)

Butler said the union did not achieve its goal of ending what members believe are dangerous alternate shifts, but did improve the dispute process by compelling the company to conduct operational trials of safer shift schedules proposed by the union.

"Going forward, it will be incumbent on WFP to understand that simply ignoring the safety of our members and forcing them to work on alternate shifts that members believe will lead to serious injuries, and even fatalities, cannot continue," Butler said.

The union says it made no concessions to WFP in the negotiated contract. 

It is not known when employees will be back on the job at six mills owned by WFP on Vancouver Island.

After the tentative agreement was reached earlier this week, Port McNeill Mayor Gaby Wickstrom said the strike has been financially devastating to mill workers and businesses that rely on them.

"It's been an extremely long seven and a half months, but we've got a ways now to go to rebuild again," said Wickstrom. 

"People have to dig out of [the] financial hole that they're in, but honestly this couldn't have been better news."

Wickstrom said people were relying on food banks and help from volunteer groups who were donating necessities to families.

Don Demens, president and CEO of Western Forest Products, said in a statement Monday that the deal was reached with the assistance of special mediators Vince Ready and Amanda Rogers.

"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,'' Demens said.

With files from Canadian Press