South Country forestry workers are expected to strike for the first time in 32 years after collective bargaining talks between the United Steelworkers (USW) and Interior Forest Labour Relations Association hit a logjam.
Approximately 875 Kootenay workers could walk off the job as a result of the impasse, affecting forestry operations across the region, including the Canfor Elko Sawmill, Galloway Sawmill and Stella Jones Pole Plant in Galloway.
Negotiations between the USW and Interior Forest Labour Relations Association have been underway since the collective agreement covering forestry workers in the Northern and Southern Interior expired on June 30.
The union’s bargaining committee hired provincial mediator Dave Schaub late Friday night after talks between the two parties broke down.
The bargaining committee represents USW locals in Kamloops, Kelowna, Cranbrook and Prince George, including 2600 members in the south region and 2000 members in the north.
Workers in the south region were in official strike position on Wednesday morning. However, USW Local 1-405 President Doug Singer remained tightlipped on planned action.
“We’re not releasing any details to the industry at all. We’re just going to do any number of things to get the message across that they need to get back to the bargaining table, stop trying to dictate what we can or can’t negotiate and give us a real offer,” he said.
Singer, who is based in Cranbrook, said the union wants a “fair collective agreement” but there has been little movement by the industry since negotiations began five months ago.
According to Singer, it’s the first time in 32 years forestry workers have been forced into strike action.
“We have taken strike votes but we have not taken any strike action,” he said.
“Those bargaining sessions when we did take a strike vote and put some pressure on, the industry responded appropriately and we bargained a fair collective agreement each and every time.
“This time, we’re just not getting that back from the industry… they seem to think that they are in control or are going to tell us what is going to be bargained and that isn’t how this works.
“We have a relationship of working together and if they don’t want to work together then we’ll force a bargain on them.”