United Steelworkers settle with Western Forest Products

Workers ratify five-year agreement to end months-long strike

United Steelworkers Local 1-1937 (USW) has ratified its agreement with Western Forest Products, with workers voting 81.9 per cent in favour of acceptance.

According to a media release from the USW, USW members working for contractors represented by Forest Industrial Relations ratified the agreement by 93 per cent.

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“Our membership has stood up and pushed back against a company that was bent on breaking our local union,” stated USW Local 1-1937 president Brian Butler. “They picked the wrong fight with the wrong local union. Our members have negotiated a contract that achieves many of our members’ goals and notably did not give Western Forest Products any concessions.”

According to a media release from WFP, the new five-year collective agreement is effective from June 15, 2019, and expires on June 14, 2024. In terms of wages, the contract offers a three per cent increase in year one, two per cent increases in years two and three, a three per cent increase in year four and a 2.5 per cent increase in year five.

“We are pleased to have a new collective agreement in place that recognizes the important contributions our employees make and enables Western to serve our customers, who, through their purchases, support thousands of jobs on the coast of British Columbia,” stated president and chief executive officer of WFP Don Demens. “We are focused on planning for a safe return to work, and while our goal is to begin operating as soon as possible, startup will be contingent on availability of employees and contractors, market demand, weather conditions and sufficient log supply.”

The strike affected workers in Powell River, who staffed a strike shack near the Western Forest Products office near Powell River Airport during the eight months of the strike.

According to the WFP release, the new agreement also provides for improvements to health and welfare benefits and clarifies the application of Western’s drug and alcohol policy. The release states that Western has maintained its management rights to operate alternate shifts while agreeing to an enhanced shift review process.

The agreement also provides the company with additional operational flexibility in its timberlands operations through the ability to introduce additional USW contractors to ensure it is meeting its annual allowable cut requirements.

Butler stated it was an impressive act of solidarity that focused the members on a fight against a large, prosperous corporation, which “attacked their pensions, job security, health and welfare benefits and many other fundamental rights our members have negotiated over decades.”

“While we did not achieve our goal of ending what members believe are dangerous alternate shifts, we did improve the dispute process by ensuring that companies must make operational trials of safer shift schedules that the union proposes, in order for our members to demonstrate that there are other shift schedules that are not only as productive as their desired shifts, but are safer for workers as well.”

Going forward, it will be incumbent on WFP to understand that simply ignoring the safety of the USW workers and forcing them to work on alternate shifts that members believe will lead to serious injuries and even fatalities cannot continue, stated Butler.

“Our members demonstrated that workers do not have to accept unwarranted concessions from a large, prosperous company and when workers are prepared and supported by their communities, they fight back to achieve the fairness, safety and job security that their labour deserves,” stated Butler. “Going forward, we hope that WFP realizes working with their workforce rather than against them is their best option for good and fair labour relations.”

United Steelworkers Local 1-1937 represents 6,100 men and women working in a wide range of occupations, including the forest industry, throughout coastal BC.

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