One-day rotating strikes began at Southern Interior forestry mills Monday, as workers hit the picket line outside Interfor in Grand Forks.
When or if Weyerhaeuser employees will walk out is a secret being closely kept by United Steelworkers Union Local 1-423.
The strike action encompasses eight different operations in the interior.
“What I’ve been telling people is just be prepared,” USW president Pat McGregor told The Spotlight in an interview Tuesday morning. “If you show up for work one morning there might be a picket line up there and we would ask that they respect the picket line. Quite frankly we have no intention of letting the employer know when and where they will be up.”
A meeting for Weyerhaeuser’s 200 employees was held Monday night at the Princeton Skills Centre. “It was very well attended. Standing room only…it was terrific,” said McGregor. He added workers are “overwhelmingly” supportive of the union’s move.
“The employer still has concessions to us. At this time in the forestry industry it is not an acceptable time to have concessions.”
Workers have been without a contract since July 1, 2018. In October they voted 98 per cent in favor of a strike mandate, and mediation ended November 16 when union negotiators left the table.
Jeff Roos, president of the Interior Forest Labour Relations Association representing the mills, said employers want to get back to bargaining. “We are disappointed that the USW not only booked out the mediator but has begun rotating strike activity. We would welcome the opportunity to resume negotiations.”
He added the mills face numerous challenges.
“The forest industry is a global industry, with B.C. having some unique challenges, including duties imposed by the US government, significant log costs and supply issues, as well as competing with international producers.”
A recent post to the union’s Facebook page gives previously unreported details of the workers’ bargaining position.
The union is seeking a three per cent wage increase over four years, while the companies are offering two per cent over five years.
The sides disagree on health benefits. The union is asking for enhanced physiotherapy, and psychological, chiropractic and orthopedic care, while the employer is looking to cap some benefits and move coverage to generic prescription drugs, said the post.
There is presently no agreement on hours of work, or an employer request to double probationary periods to 60 days.
The USW is asking for changes to the roles of relief supervisors and chargehands, and improvements to bereavement leave. It says it has made proposals on addiction treatment and a boot allowance.
Roos declined to cite specifics regarding the union’s published positions.
“We have a different perspective on which items are outstanding and what items are considered concessions. However, that is best left for the bargaining table.”
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