British Columbia

Forestry strike mediators to report directly to B.C. labour minister as pressure mounts for resolution

The B.C. government is taking a more active role to find a resolution to the ongoing forestry strike on Vancouver Island, with the minister of Labour requesting that mediators report directly back to him.

Company announced last week talks with union had collapsed

Striking Western Forest Products workers and supporters of the United Steelworkers union rally in Nanaimo, B.C. — where the company is based — on Nov. 6. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

The B.C. government is taking a more active role to find a resolution to the ongoing forestry strike on Vancouver Island, with the minister of Labour requesting that mediators report directly back to him. 

Minister Harry Bains recently sent a letter to the president of Western Forest Products and the president of the United Steelworkers Local 1-1937, informing both parties of the change. 

"I have asked mediators Vince Ready and Amanda Rogers to call you both back to mediation as soon as possible over the holiday season and to stay at the table for as long as it takes to get an agreement," Bains wrote in the letter. 

"[They] will keep me informed of your progress."

Western Forest Products workers have been on the picket lines for more than six months, sending economic ripples across Vancouver Island

The strike affects about 3,000 coastal forest workers employed in the company's sawmills and timberland operations. Employees walked off the job July 1 over wages and working conditions.

Last week, the company announced that a round of talks with the union had collapsed and negotiations had reached an impasse.

"There is too much at stake for this dispute to continue," said Bains in a written statement to CBC.

"[The two mediators] will report back to me on outcomes and I will remain very engaged on this important matter."

B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains said the dispute is placing an unacceptable burden on coastal forestry communities. (CBC)

Don Demens, president and CEO of Western Forest Products, says he agrees the strike has gone on for too long but has some questions about the extent of the government's involvement in mediations.

"We are pleased the government has decided to intervene," he wrote to CBC in an email. "We are seeking clarity from the minister with respect to the specific mandate and instructions he has provided to the mediators."

Bains said the goal is to get a renewed collective agreement as soon as possible, echoing comments made last week by Premier John Horgan.

Gaby Wickstrom, mayor of Port McNeill, has seen first-hand the impacts of the strike on her community. She wants to see recommendations directly from the mediators sooner rather than later. 

"With the collateral damage of other people outside the industry, it's probably time to hear from the mediators and see exactly where the sticking points are," she said. "I don't think there's any other option than an open process." 

She's not convinced government intervention will resolve the issue.

"I was [hopeful] at one point but I'm not so much anymore," she said.  "I feel it just gets people's hopes up, up, up but I think it's mostly for optics." 

CBC reached out to the union but did not immediately hear back. 

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