Around the campfire on the picket line at the Chemainus sawmill, from left, are: Dave Karras, Steve Samson, Terry Hill and Kai Muller. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Cowichan workers optimistic, but cautious, over deal to end strike at Western Forest Products

Steelworkers must still ratify tentative agreement

Kam Bains said he’s cautiously optimistic that the long strike at Western Forest Products is finally coming to an end now that a tentative deal has been struck.

Bains, who has almost 25 years in the forest industry, including the last four at WFP’s mill in Cowichan Bay, said he had not expected to be on strike for more than seven months.

“But I’m not surprised,” he said as he stood around a fire to keep warm with other strikers at the entrance to the mill on the morning of Feb. 10.

“The company kept us out all this time for just a few little things [in the bargaining process]. The company wants more and more and has been shipping logs out to their mills in the U.S. to keep them running while we were on strike. It’s ridiculous.”

Bains said the strike has been rough for everyone.

“We are used to having regular pay to support our families,” he said. “Nothing is cheap.”

It was announced Monday that Western Forest Products and the United Steelworkers Local 1-1937 have agreed to the terms of a tentative collective agreement.

“With the assistance of special mediators, Vince Ready and Amanda Rogers, we have reached a fair and equitable agreement that balances the needs of our employees and our business,” said Don Demens, president and CEO of WFP. “This has been a particularly challenging time and I’m pleased that we were able to find common ground through the efforts of all involved.”

The union membership still has to give the green light to the agreement through a ratification vote at a date still to be announced.

The USW bargaining committee has said they will be advising members to accept the agreement.

“Our union is extremely proud of our members’ solidarity in this extended struggle to achieve a fair collective agreement with WFP and their associated contractors,” said Brian Butler, president of Local 1-1937.

“Details of the tentative agreement will not be released until our members have had the opportunity to review and vote on the terms of the memorandum of agreement, which we hope we can arrange in a timely manner. I am pleased to report that the tentative agreement does not contain any concessions, which was a key mandate from our members.”

Approximately 1,500 of WFP’s hourly employees, including hundreds at WFP mills in Cowichan Bay and Chemainus, and 1,500 employees working for the company’s timberlands operators and contractors in B.C., were impacted by the strike.

Curtis Spencer, another striker at the WFP mill in Cowichan Bay, said union members have heard good news before about the strike but were disappointed, so he wants to see the details of the agreement before he’s sure the strike, which began on Canada Day, is finally over.

“If we do go back to work, I’ll be excited,” he said. “But the strike is still on until the agreement is ratified.”

Striker Luis Fernandez said when mediators Ready and Rogers walked away from the bargaining table last week saying no deal was apparently possible, many strikers thought they would be on the picket lines for at least another eight months.

“The community has been great to us and we’re grateful for the amazing support, especially around Christmas time,” he said.

“Many people honked their horns in support of us while we were on the picket lines, and we had coffee and doughnuts dropped off to us on a pretty regular basis. We want to thank everyone for their support during the strike.”

Labour

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