Credit to Author: Nick Eagland| Date: Wed, 05 Feb 2020 03:15:13 +0000
Veteran B.C. mediators Vince Ready and Amanda Rogers have pulled out of talks between Western Forest Products and striking United Steelworkers, after concluding that the two sides currently have no chance of reaching a deal.
Ready and Rogers had been overseeing negotiations between the company and Steelworkers Local 1-1937 during the longest strike in coastal forest history, now in its eighth month.
The decision is sure to increase pressure on the provincial government to intervene in the dispute, which affects not only the about 3,000 strikers but also thousands of contractors, forestry-related companies and community businesses.
On Tuesday, Ready and Rogers sent a letter terminating their involvement.
“After reviewing each party’s current position, we are of the view that there is no basis for a negotiated settlement,” the mediators wrote. “We are therefore withdrawing from the mediation process.”
Western Forests Products is B.C.’s largest coastal forestry company, with six mills on the Island that produce specialty wood products. It made $69.2 million in profit in 2018, a decrease of almost 27 per cent from 2016.
The union argues the company is profitable enough to cut back on alternative shifts that fail to give workers consecutive days off, but the company says that flexibility is key to its operations. That remains the sticking point to getting a deal.
Brian Butler, president of Local 1-1937, said he wasn’t surprised the mediators had withdrawn.
“We could see it coming because Western has not been moving off any of their positions for months now,” Butler said. “(We’ve) been getting a big stiff arm, basically, from Western Forest Products, who I think are locked into a strategy of doing nothing, keeping concessions on the table, in the hope that government can intervene.”
Butler said he would again caution the government against getting involved, while Western Forest Products has publicly called for government intervention in the strike.
Butler said the union would rather get back to the table with the employer’s new bargaining committee, in hopes of making progress.
Don Demens, president and chief executive officer of Western Forest Products, said in a news release that he is disappointed they were unable to reach a negotiated settlement “despite previous proposals offering superior wage and contract provisions to what the USW and the forest sector have agreed to throughout” the province.
“We will continue to explore all options available to bring an end to the prolonged USW strike and have reached out to the Ministry of Labour to seek clarification on next steps,” Demens said in news release.
Labour Minister Harry Bains said he, too, was disappointed the mediators had concluded that negotiations remained at an impasse.
“As a result, I am considering options available to government in order to help parties move forward in the collective bargaining process,” he said in a news release.
“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.”
The province has the power to set up an industrial inquiry commission, legislate a cooling-off period, legislate an end to the strike or ask mediators to craft a new contract.
With files from Rob Shaw