A United Steelworkers Union official has alleged that Western Forest Products (WFP) is not serious about wanting to resolve the union’s ongoing strike because the company rejected mediator Vince Ready’s involvement.
The company says, however, it is willing to agree to mediation.
Western Forest Products’ workers went on strike as of 3:45 pm on Monday, July 1, and pickets were in place in several Powell River locations after the job action was called.
United Steelworkers (USW) Local 1-1937, the union representing 1,500 of the company’s hourly employees and 1,500 employees working for the company’s timberland operators and contractors in BC, began a strike that affects all of the company’s USW-certified manufacturing and timberlands operations in the province.
According to a news release from the union, WFP applied for mediation under Section 74 of the BC Labour Relations Code and then proceeded to make statements to the media that the union rejected the offer.
With the assistance of legal council and the labour relations board, it was communicated to WFP that the union was prepared to accept the company’s request for mediation with no preconditions, as renowned mediator Vince Ready was prepared to make himself available to assist the parties, if the company agreed to his involvement.
While the role of a mediator under Section 74 of the BC Labour Code is non-binding on the parties, it came as a “complete surprise” to United Steelworkers Local 1-1937 president Brian Butler that WFP advised on July 11 that it would not agree to the appointment of Vince Ready.
“Western Forest Products’ refusal to agree to someone as qualified as Vince Ready is the complete opposite of Western Forest Products’ publicly stated position that they want mediation,” stated Butler. “It is clear by their actions that they are not serious about negotiating a collective agreement with our union.”
WFP vice-president of corporate affairs Susan Dolinski said the selection of mediators is determined by the labour relations board, and as is typical in this process, both parties expressed preferences to the board about the appointment of a mediator.
“This, in no way, should be interpreted as Western refusing mediation,” said Dolinski. “Since June 25, Western has made a request to the labour relations board and multiple requests since then, and we would certainly welcome a return to the bargaining table.”
Dolinski said the media release put out by the USW was the first indication WFP has received that the union is open to mediation.
“We are pleased to see that,” said Dolinski.
If an agreeable party for both sides can be found with regard to the mediation process, WFP would be agreeable to a mediation process, she added.
“We are hopeful that we will hear soon from the labour relations board and we fully respect their role in this process,” said Dolinski. “I think they will appoint a mediator in due process and we hope a mediator will be appointed soon but we don’t have a timeline in which that will occur.”
Dolinski said there are six WFP mills that are currently not operating during the strike, as well as the timberlands operations.