The Chemainus sawmill and other Western Forest Products mills on the Island remain idle, coming up on five months. (Photo by Don Bodger)

The Chemainus sawmill and other Western Forest Products mills on the Island remain idle, coming up on five months. (Photo by Don Bodger)

USW, WFP remain at loggerheads

Statements from both the union and company about the latest negotiations

Following are statements released by both Western Forest Products and the United Steelworkers Local 1-1937 remain at odds following the latest round of failed mediation sessions.

A letter from WFP president and chief executive officer Don Demens to all Western employees currently on strike reads as follows:

“We were disappointed to learn from independent mediators Vince Ready and Amanda Rogers that after 14 hours of weekend bargaining, talks were over, and no new talks are scheduled.

Western tabled the attached proposal to the USW bargaining committee with the goal of bringing people back to work and ending the strike.

Our proposal maintains the terms of the previous collective agreement while providing more money than recent industry agreements in the form of an up-front signing bonus of $2000 and enhanced benefits. We have also removed any item that could be viewed as concessionary. To get people back to work as soon as possible, we asked the USW Bargaining Committee to take this offer to the membership to vote on. We also told both the mediators and the USW Bargaining Committee that we would be willing to have our employees return to work during the voting process. The USW Bargaining Committee rejected these proposals. No future bargaining dates have been set.

To ensure you have all the facts, we have attached our offer in its entirety for your information.

Summarizing what is in the proposed agreement:

Term of agreement – Five-year term from 2019-2024

This term matches recent Interior forest industry collective bargaining settlements and is less than recent coastal pulp industry agreements. It provides labour certainty for employees, our customers, Western’s contractors and communities.

Wages – Western offered an upfront signing bonus of $2,000 and wage increases of 2%, 2%, 2%, 2%, 2.5%. Additional wage increases are included for Charge Hands, Hook Tenders, First Aid attendants, operators of tethered equipment and for those working afternoon or evening shifts.

As a result, under this proposal, beginning wages would increase to $30.07 per hour in the first year and move to $32.71 by the end of the agreement. Similarly, the highest paid individual would increase to $54.40 per hour in the first year and make $59.17 by the end of the contract. In addition to these increases, you would receive full health and welfare benefits, pension and applicable premiums.

Benefits – There are proposed increases in certain benefit levels.

Western’s Long-Term Disability proposal would put money back in your pockets and allows for an extension of the benefits beyond 60 years of age. This proposal effectively adds a further 0.4% to 0.75% to wage increases.

Local Agreements – All local agreements, cancelled during the term of this negotiation, would be reinstated.

What is NOT in the proposed agreement – Western DROPPED the following issues, in order to get to an agreement, and get employees back to work:

• Pension plan choices

• Changes to contracting out (Article XXV)

• Vacation changes

• Training wages; and

• ALL other items, originally tabled 2

The USW Bargaining Committee’s position continues to be entrenched, demanding a shorter term and wage increases that are nearly 40 per cent higher than established industry agreements and would eliminate current shift flexibility which is required to operate the business.

Western carefully considered all the Committee’s proposals, including demonstrating openness to a four-year term. However, in an industry already challenged to compete in global markets, the Committee’s proposals in their entirety are not sustainable; challenging future capital investment, decreasing operational certainty and restricting our ability to operate efficiently. While we are doing everything we can to end the strike, we must also protect the future of our business so we can continue to employ thousands of people in British Columbia.

Given these circumstances, it is important we work collaboratively to bring this labour dispute to an end.

Western remains willing to honour this proposal, go to binding arbitration, or to explore other opportunities to end this strike and get employees back to work. We are urging the USW Bargaining Committee to reconsider its decision and allow employees to vote on this offer or enter binding arbitration so we can return people to work as soon as possible.

Following is a rebuttal from the union:

After recommencing mediation on November 12th, 16th and 17th, WFP decided it would not respond to the Union’s last offer at midday yesterday (Sunday, November 17th).

It is unfortunate, but not surprising that WFP walked away from the bargaining table again. In today’s letter, they have attempted to undermine our members’ solidarity, rather than negotiate in good faith in mediation, in order to reach an agreement.

The result is that more time has now been wasted in game playing, rather than getting on with the serious issue of collective bargaining.

USW Local 1-1937 has now held a conference call with all of its elected Chairpersons, Officers and Staff to review WFP’s mediation delaying action. After discussing all of the details of mediation, as well as WFP’s weak proposal, including all of the USW Memberships proposals that the WFP proposal refuses to mention or address; The Unions leadership group comprised of WFP and Contractor Chairpersons has passed a unanimous motion directing the Bargaining Committee to reject WFP’s proposal in its entirety. The leadership group further stated that WFP should stop its delaying tactics and get back to the mediation table.

The proposal made today by WFP is a desperate attempt and has failed to undermine the solidarity of members. Our members remain united in our effort to reach a fair agreement for the Coastal Forest Industry. For WFP’s information, this does not mean copying what the separate and fundamentally different Interior Forest Industry has negotiated. It means reaching an agreement that puts the safety, security and well being of Coastal Forest workers where it needs to be.

WFP’s proposal today is a bare-bones proposal that does not address numerous member proposals including:

* Appropriate wages (USW’s last proposal – 4 years at 3%, 3%, 2.5% and 2.5%)

* Appropriate H&W Benefits and Shift Differential and First Aid premium increases

* Addressing fatigue-inducing, unsafe, family wreaking Alternate Shifts

* Addressing WFP’s abusive Drug & Alcohol Policy designed to terminate and discriminate against workers (rather than help them with possible addiction issues)

* Introducing a boot allowance

* Allowing for severance pay for members working for contractors, in a permanent partial closure.

The WFP proposal also eliminates 17 other tentative agreements the parties have reached in the mediation process, essentially wiping out much of the work already completed. These tentative agreements provide for improvements including but not limited to:

* Union security language improvements

* Health and Safety language improvements

* Apprentice selection improvements

* 6 Arbitrator and Umpire appointments to speed up arbitrations

* Member support during drug and alcohol investigations and testing

* Assurance that our EFAP providers will continue for the term of the next agreement

This letter by Don Demens today falsely claims that their proposal removes any item that could be viewed as concessionary. This is false. Their proposal still has over 40 separate concessions as it cancels practices across many operations, most of which would be significant loses to the membership in those operations.

This letter by Don Demens also falsely claims that their LTD proposal will allow for LTD to be extended past age 60. This is false. Nowhere in the proposal is a statement of this assurance. The Union has a proposal to extend LTD coverage past age 60 for members, but WFP has refused to accept it.

Demens also makes a misleading statement that the Union’s wages are nearly 40% higher than any established industry agreements. Our last proposal was 11% over 4 years, which is only 3% higher than the 8% over 4 years WFP has proposed.

WFP’s proposal completely ignores all of our membership’s proposals and key issues which we have been fighting for; Therefore their proposal today is rejected by the USW Local 1-1937 Bargaining Committee.

Our bargaining committee urges WFP negotiators to get back to the bargaining table and move forward with the mediation process. We did see some progress in the last three mediation meetings and that is the only place an agreement will be reached.

The USW Bargaining Committee remains available every day to continue mediation. We urge WFP’s bargaining committee to contact the Mediators to schedule more dates. We are available starting tomorrow.