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7-month strike may soon be over as Western Forest Products, union reach tentative collective agreement

Western Forest Products and the United Steelworkers union have reached a tentative collective agreement after a seven-month-long labour dispute.

The agreement between the company and the union was announced Monday.

About 3,000 Vancouver Island forest workers and contractors represented by United Steelworkers Union Local 1-1937 have been off the job since July 1, striking over potential loss of pensions, seniority rights and long-term disability benefits.

Mediators Vince Ready and Amanda Rogers were working with the two sides, but booked out earlier this month, when both the union and company said they were too far apart to reach a settlement.

The provincial government reappointed the two as special mediators last Thursday, which gave them additional powers under the labour code to reach a deal.

“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 Western Forest Products.

“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.

North Island mayor thrilled

Port McNeill Mayor Gaby Wickstrom said she was elated to hear the news as the strike has been hard on her community, where many people depend on the industry for employment.

“I’m thrilled they came to an agreement,” said the mayor, who also noted it will take a while for people and businesses in the area to get back on their feet.

“It’s been 7½ months, you don’t go with next to no income for 7½ months and not have some repercussions,” said Wickstrom on Monday on CBC’s On The Island.

She said a silver lining of the strike was seeing how locals came together to help those in need, hosting community dinners and delivering hampers to families going without.

Wickstrom said the group Loonies for Loggers, which was created in September by Campbell River residents Tamara Meggitt and Rona Doucette to deliver food to people in financial dire straits, will continue with its work for at least a month to keep people afloat until their paycheques start coming in again.

Meanwhile, Susan Fleming, a Nootka Sound Timber employee from remote Tahsis, B.C., says that after driving over an hour each week to the picket line, she’s financially devastated.

“I can’t even fathom how long it’s going to take to get back … to where I was before,” she said.

Fleming said the other picketers are happy with the news, but she’s frustrated it took so long for the government to involve itself and put a quick end to the dispute.

‘Really painful for those impacted’

David Elstone, executive director of the truck loggers association, said he’s “very happy to finally see a resolution,” adding the past several months have been “really painful” for all those impacted.

“It’s too bad that [the strike was so] long and it only takes four days of government influence to … get these people back to work,” he said.

Estone noted the forest industry usually sees an increase in demand into the spring.

The agreement still needs to be ratified by United Steelworkers members. The union bargaining committee has advised they will be recommending its members accept it.

Doug Donaldson, the minister of forest, lands, natural resource operations and rural development, said in a statement he’s “hopeful this will mean Island forestry workers are back on the job soon, supporting their families and communities.”

“We are working hard to ensure our forests support B.C. jobs … by processing our logs here on the coast and maximizing the value to communities. … We remain committed to supporting a sustainable forest sector,” the statement said.

CBC does not yet know the details of the agreement.

CBC

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