BY BILL PHILLIPS
About 1,600 United Steelworkers across northern B.C. will be taking a strike vote over the next couple of weeks.
Talks between the Steelworkers and CONIFER, a society formed by forest companies to handle collective bargaining, broke down Monday. Steelworkers tabled their demands with CONIFER on May 22 and with West Fraser on May 23. The union subsequently choose to first negotiate with CONIFER. The contract expired June 30.
“After five meetings, we come to realize they don’t seem to be taking us us too seriously and aren’t willing to move along whatsoever,” said Brian O’Rourke, president of Steelworkers Local 1-2017.
The two sides met on July 5 and the Steelworkers, said O’Rourke, submitted a pare-down set of proposals.
“They took two weeks and met with us yesterday and weren’t interested whatsoever,” said ORourke. “So from there, the only thing we have left to do is take a strike vote.”
The vote will be held at 13 mills and involve close to 1,600 Steelworkers. Strike votes will be taken at the Hampton Group at Burns Lake (Babine Forest Products); two Conifex Mills, one at Fort St. James and one at Mackenzie; Lakeland Mills in Prince George; Dunkley Lumber; West Fraser’s planer mill in Williams Lake; four Canfor operations … Houston, Isle Pierre, PG Sawmill, and Fort St. John; and Tolko … Lakeview and Soda Creek in Williams Lake, and Questwood in Quesnel.
During the last negotiations, Canfor negotiated outside of the CONIFER group and the Steelworkers negotiated with it first, setting the bar for other negotiations. This time, however, most of the Canfor operations are negotiating under the CONIFER umbrella. Canfor’s operations in Chetwynd, Polar at Bear Lake, and Plateau at Vanderhoof will be negotiated separately.
West Fraser Mills’ operations will also be negotiated plant-by-plant.
“We haven’t put dollar figures on the table yet,” said O’Rourke, adding, however, they will be seeking a substantial wage increase. “I certainly hope once we get down to talking money there shouldn’t be an issue because (mills) have been riding high with record profits.”
Lumber prices have been extremely high this year. According to the Madison Report, western spruce/pine/fir two-by-fours are selling at (U.S.) $577/1,000 board feet at two-by-sixes at $428.
O’Rourke said they also proposed some wording changes in the contract.
There are no new talks scheduled and the strike vote is expected to take a couple of weeks.
“I don’t think anyone wants to see any kind of labour disruption in the forest industry, they’re making nothing but money,” he said. “Time will tell in the next couple of weeks.”
CONIFER executive director Michael Bryce has not returned calls.