Chemainus sawmill has been idled since Canada Day following the start of strike action by United Steelworkers Local 1-1937. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Company and union locked in for a battle

Chemainus sawmill just a part of the stalemate between WFP and the USW

The last thing Chemainus needs is a prolonged strike at the Western Forest Products Chemainus sawmill.

It’s been a tough time for the Chemainus business community ever since a big windstorm hit and knocked out power for a few days just prior to last Christmas. Then came the heavy snowfalls of February that essentially shut down the town for another few days until some of the main streets were belatedly plowed.

The mill is a key contributor to the local economy and if workers are forced to tighten their belts for a while till the labour dispute is solved that will hit the community hard yet again.

On the one hand, everyone connected to the Chemainus mill in any capacity has been anticipating a work stoppage for some time. And, obviously with the expiration of the previous five-year agreement in mid-June, things moved rather quickly with the union issuing 72-hour notice after a strike vote as close to 100 per cent as you’re going to get and then starting strike action on Canada Day.

United Steelworkers Local 1-1937 and WFP are not seeing eye-to-eye on anything right now. This shutdown in production has been looming for several years almost since the last agreement first went into effect.

Word of employee unrest spread throughout the community. Many senior people in key positions quit out of frustration while several were reprimanded by suspensions or terminations that did not sit well with the union.

The team system at Chemainus is in jeopardy. The workers love how it improves their productivity and safety and provided job flexibility, but the company seems intent to scrap it, along with a serious curtailment in benefits that many inching toward retirement are counting on having.

The company says markets are soft right now; the union says the profit margins being enjoyed by WFP are currently at a decent level.

There’s not likely to be an end to this stalemate without major concessions on one side or the other. It’s hard to see at this point where that compromise is going to come from.

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