Workers at Canfor’s sawmill in Houston, along with other sawmill workers in northern B.C., are ready to go on strike.
United Steelworkers Local 1-2017, which represents more than 1,500 forestry workers in B.C., issued a 72-hour strike notice on Oct. 3.
“As of Saturday [Oct. 6] the union is in a legal strike position,” explained union president Brian O’Rourke last week. However, that is a decision that shall be made at the appropriate time; just because notice is served we do not have to act upon it.”
Canfor’s workers are represented in bargaining by the Council on Northern Interior Forest Employment Relations (Conifer).
Conifer and the union have been engaged in collective bargaining since May 29 , 2018. The parties have spent fifteen days in negotiations, culminating with five full days of mediation at the end of September.
“We had the assistance of a mediator for five days and we didn’t make any headway,” O’Rourke told Black Press.
The union believes the employers should come to the bargaining table better prepared to address workers’ issues, given the strong lumber market.
Lumber prices have been high despite the imposition of U.S. import duties in February 2017, upheld by the U.S. Commerce Department in December at an average level of more than 20 per cent. Prices hit record levels in June, pushed by seasonal impact of the 2017 forest fires, severe winter weather and strong demand from the U.S. housing market.
The union has proposed changes to the collective agreement that include leave for members struggling with domestic violence and pension funding improvement.
Mills in Burns Lake, Fort St. James and Prince George could also be affected.
Steve Zika, chief executive officer of Hampton Lumber, which owns Babine Forest Products in Burns Lake, told Houston Today he’s still hopeful that a settlement can be negotiated.
“No one wishes for a strike,” he said. “I would rather remain optimistic and not speculate on the effects of a strike by the union.”
Conifer released a statement Thursday saying they were disappointed the union has chosen to issue a strike notice.
“There are a few topics requiring resolution in order to realize a tentative agreement between Conifer and the United Steelworkers,” said Mike Bryce, Conifer’s executive director. “We are optimistic that a resolution to the outstanding topics can be achieved.”
– With files from Tom Fletcher