British Columbia

Vancouver Island forestry workers rally in Nanaimo after 4 months on strike

Nearly 300 striking forestry workers from all over Vancouver Island gathered in downtown Nanaimo Wednesday to up the pressure on their employer, Western Forest Products (WFP).

Union rejects binding arbitration but agrees to return to mediation

Forestry workers and members of United Steelworkers Local 1-1937 rally outside the Western Forest Products office in Nanaimo. After four months, the strike has still not been resolved. (Adam van der Zwan/CBC)

Nearly 300 striking forestry workers from all over Vancouver Island gathered in downtown Nanaimo Wednesday to up the pressure on their employer, Western Forest Products (WFP).

Employees walked off the job July 1 demanding fair wages and working conditions. Four months later, the dispute has still not been resolved.

Hundreds of forestry workers gathered Wednesday at Nob Hill Park in Nanaimo, then marched to the Western Forest Products office. (Adam van der Zwan/CBC)

"The longest strike our local union has ever had was four and half months in 1986," said Brian Butler, the president of the United Steelworkers local 1-137, which represents over 3,000 members. "[WFP] wants to gut our rights, our benefits and our job security," he said.

Butler said the company indicated to the union last Thursday that it would "move on its position" but he's still waiting. He said last month the union rejected the company's offer of binding arbitration.

"We're prepared to go longer than they are. If that's into next year, then it's into next year," said Butler. 

An emailed statement from Western Forest Products says the company is "disappointed that the union very quickly rejected [our binding arbitration] proposal, but we are pleased they have agreed to return to mediation."

"We recognize how challenging this labour dispute is for our employees, their families and communities and we are doing everything we can to end the strike."

Shelley Rickson, a union member and picket co-ordinator for Powell River, said the last four months have been a financial hardship on everybody. "It's beyond frustrating, and we're just ready to have our lives back," she said.

Despite this, she said morale among the workers is still high, and that "one day longer is one day stronger."

John Weldon from Campbell River said he's been out of work for nearly five months and is currently living off his savings and Registered Retirement Savings Plan funds.

Campbell River resident John Weldon says he never expected the strike to last this long. (Adam van der Zwan/CBC)

"There are other [strikers] who haven't been in the industry as long and I know it's hard for them," he noted. 

Weldon said he hadn't expected the strike to last so long because "WFP has been making record profits."

He said while it's easy to be angry, the strike "isn't about anger. It's about a fair contract."

About the Author

Adam van der Zwan is a journalist based in Victoria, British Columbia. You can send him a news tip at adam.van.der.zwan@cbc.ca.

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