The strike by United Steelworkers Local 1-1937 is well into its second week. Manning the picket line at the Western Forest Products Chemainus sawmill Thursday, from left, are: Greg Heyes, Rick McLeod, Frank Granberg, Jimmy McCabe and Pat Browne. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Western Forest Products strike on Vancouver Island in its third week

Union says company doesn’t agree to mediator Vince Ready, Western counters that isn’t the case

The Western Forest Products strike on Vancouver Island is into its third week, and the union says the company has rejected mediation.

The forest company and United Steelworkers Local 1-1937 have been in a labour dispute since July 1, after the union issued 72-hours’ strike notice. In a press release issued Friday, the union said it, with the aid of legal counsel and the B.C. Labour Relations Board, notified Western on Monday, that it “was prepared to accept a request for mediation with no preconditions, as renowned mediator Vince Ready was prepared to make himself available” if the two sides agreed. The union said Western Forest Products advised Thursday it wouldn’t agree to Ready’s appointment.

Ready’s resumé includes settlements in strikes involving teachers and construction and mining workers and Western’s refusal to agree to someone with those qualifications is in contrast to what it has previously stated regarding mediation, Brian Butler, USW Local 1-1937 president, said in the press release.

Western Forest Products, for its part, denies it rejected mediation.

“We are fully committed to the collective bargaining process and we’ve been continuing to press to have a mediator appointed through the labour relations board and to clarify, what’s typical in this process is both parties will express preferences regarding the appointment of a mediator,” said Susan Dolinski, Western’s vice-president of corporate affairs. “This in no way should be interpreted as Western refusing mediation.”

Dolinski said Western has made requests to the labour relations board since June 25 and what the union’s statement signals to her is that it is open to mediation, a positive sign. The company is looking forward to appointment of a mediator when the labour relations board is able to make that decision, she said.

“We are still in discussions with the labour relations board and the union about the appointment of the mediator … we have to go through the process with the labour relations board to determine who will be the mediator and when that will take place,” said Dolinski. “That’s where we’re at right now and so it looks like we’ll return to the table and we’re hopeful that that will be soon.”

The strike affects Western’s six USW-certified mills on Vancouver Island, timberlands employees and employees that work for contractor companies. A sawmill in Ladysmith and the “value-added division” at Chemainus are not affected, as Dolinski said they are represented by different unions.

The union previously stated in a notice that it is striking because the company hasn’t addressed the union’s proposals seriously and “continues to keep massive concessions on the bargaining table that threaten” workers.

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