British Columbia

Mediators walk away from negotiations in 7-month-long Western Forest Products strike

There’s been another setback in the seven-month strike at Western Forest Products, after two independent mediators announced their withdrawal from negotiations.

3,000 forest workers and contractors on Vancouver Island began striking on July 1, 2019

The union said it made zero concessions to the company in the new agreement. (USW 1-1937/Facebook)

There's been another setback in the seven-month strike at Western Forest Products, with the withdrawal of two independent mediators from negotiations.

According to the forestry company, mediators Vince Ready and Amanda Rogers announced their decision in a letter, explaining that they saw no basis for a negotiated settlement.

Labour Minister Harry Bains said he was disappointed by the news and will consider the province's options for resolving the standoff.

"The impact of this dispute is being felt by many in the province and action is needed to ensure a vibrant coastal forest sector in B.C. with sustainable jobs now and into the future," Bains said in a written statement.

About 3,000 Vancouver Island forest workers and contractors represented by United Steelworkers Union Local 1-1937 have been off the job since July 1, when they began striking over potential loss of pensions, seniority rights and long-term disability benefits.

Talks between the company and the union reached an impasse in December, but the mediators invited both sides back to the table last week.

Union, company respond

Union president Brian Butler said he wasn't surprised to learn the mediators had withdrawn, but striking workers have made it clear they want to continue fighting. He explained that a particular sticking point has been long hours and irregular work schedules.

"Our members are standing strong for the right issues and the right reasons. None of our members want to be off work…. They just want to be able to go to work with their heads held high and be safe on the job," Butler told CBC.

He added that he opposes any intervention by the government.

Western Forest Products president Don Demens said the company has made generous contract and wage offers, but remains committed to reaching a fair agreement.

"We recognize the profound impact the strike is having on our employees, contractors, their families and communities," Demens said in a press release.

The province has said that logging contractors affected by the strike can apply for bridging loans from a $5 million fund that was established last month. The money is intended to help them make payments on their logging equipment as the strike drags on.

With files from Dan Burritt

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