Following rotating strikes at five southern Interior sawmills late last year, the union representing area forestry workers is headed back to the bargaining table.
The United Steelworkers and Interior Forest Labour Relations Association have agreed to three days of bargaining in Kelowna, from Jan. 15 to Jan. 17.
“We’re going back to the table at their [the IFLRA’s] request,” USW 1-417 president Marty Gibbons said.
“We’re still seeking a fair agreement. That doesn’t mean everything we wish and dream for, but any discussions are good discussions,” he said.
The two sides haven’t engaged in talks since Nov. 16 when USW dismissed mediator Dave Schaub and initiated rotating strikes at five operations into December.
According to the IFLRA, 12 days of negotiations had taken place at that point, dating back to Sept. 6.
Union members at Locals 1-405 (Cranbrook), 1-423 (Kelowna) and 1-417 (Kamloops) have been without a new contract for the past six months.
They, including Canoe Forest Products near Salmon Arm, voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action in October.
Issues raised by the union include being locked into a long-term contract with small wage increases.
“We want to get an agreement; our goal is a fair contract that reflects the profits forestry companies in B.C. are making,” Gibbons says. “We’re not asking for all of them, or even most of them, but we would like a contract that reflects the profits – that’s fair.”
Negotiations between the two sides has the union proposing a three per cent per year wage increase over four years, compared to the IFLRA’s offer of two per cent per year over five years, according to a USW bargaining update.
“They they want a super long term contract with meagre increases in what is being seen as the golden age for profits in the forestry industry,” he says, calling profits made last year by public companies Canfor, West Fraser and Interfor “astronomical.”
Tolko, as a private company, is not required to post their profits.
USW Local 1-417 represents forestry workers at mills in Kamloops, Clearwater, Salmon Arm, Merritt and Clinton.
IFLRA president Jeff Roos responded by email.
“We appreciate that the USW has accepted the opportunity to resume discussions with the IFLRA,” he said.
“In the midst of challenging times in the B.C. forest industry, we believe that we can best conclude an agreement, by sitting down and talking through the issues.”
The IFLRA represents 10 companies, with a total of 2,800 employees across southern B.C.
The entire provincial bargaining committee – representing forestry workers without new contracts in both northern and southern B.C. – will be at the meetings in Kelowna, Gibbons said.