The sun was shining on the picket line at the Western Forest Products Chemainus sawmill Tuesday morning, with the prospects of returning to work much brighter after the announcement of a tentative agreement between WFP and the United Steelworkers Local 1-1937.
“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.
The USW bargaining committee has said it 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.”
The strike has lasted nearly seven and a half months to this point.
It’s been a long haul and USW members on the picket line in Chemainus are anxious to see the details of the tentative agreement.
“Who knows what we’re going back to, the unknown,” said Kathy DiLalla, a 20-year employee at the mill.
Steven Molina of Crofton only started at the mill last April and wound up on strike less than three months later.
“I’ve met a lot of good people,” he said. “That’s definitely one of the reasons I’ve decided to stick around. It’s not the place that makes you want to come back, it’s the people.”
Molina conceded he’s had some hard times during the prolonged strike.
“I’m able to come down here when I’m feeling (down) and talk to people and lift your spirits up.”
Both DiLalla and Molina can’t say enough about the community support they’ve received in Chemainus.
“We’re kind of fortunate, we’re close to town,” noted DiLalla. “In the summertime, we had tons of tourists who wanted to know our story.”
“Definitely seen my share of handshakes and hugs,” added Molina. “Makes you feel like you’re part of something.”
– with a file from Robert Barron, Cowichan Valley Citizen