Despite a work stoppage entering its fifth month, striking Island Western Forest Products workers have no intention of conceding in a new labour deal, says their labour leader.
Workers from United Steelworkers Local 1-1937 have been behind picket lines since July 1 and on Wednesday they gathered for a march to the company’s Nanaimo office and a subsequent rally. Brian Butler, union president, said the union has rejected “binding mediation” and there are no current plans for further negotiations.
“This is a good economy where this company is making millions of dollars and making record profits and they’re coming to the table with concessions? Those two things just don’t mix,” said Butler. “So we’re never going to take concessions. We’ve been saying that from Day 1 and they realize, and they must know by now, that they’re never going to get an agreement with us with those concessions on the table. They need to get them off and get a fair deal with our union.”
Butler said seniority is one of the concessions the union takes issue with.
“They’ve unilaterally cancelled all [seniority rights and training and job security agreements] and our position is those agreements will not be cancelled,” said Butler. “They will have to be back in place because they are not going to erode our seniority rights … the union’s based on seniority and senior members will get the opportunity for those training postings and they’re not going to strip those rights away from us.”
Stephen Hunt, union director for western Canada, said the company is seeking an agreement similar with other agreements in B.C., but those are apples-to-oranges comparisons.
“The industry is different on the Island and it’s a different industry than it is in the Interior. Doesn’t suffer through the same cycles and it’s a different product mix, so we’re dealing with a slightly different industry and slightly different work force as well,” said Hunt.
Butler said workers from across the Island were invited to attend Wednesday’s rally and organizers estimated more than 300 people attended.
According to Susan Dolinski, Western Forest Products’ vice-president of corporate affairs, the company recognizes how challenging the labour dispute is for employees, their families and communities and is doing everything it can to end the strike.
Dolinski said the company has agreed with a mediator on a potential negotiation date, but has not yet heard back from the union.