Babine Forest Products is one of 23 sawmills where workers are expected to take a strike vote by mid-August.
Babine is represented in bargaining by the Council on Northern Interior Forest Employment Relations (Conifer), which is currently in negotiations with the United Steelworkers Wood Council (USW).
The USW, which represents 1500 mill workers across central and Northern B.C., said in a statement issued July 24 that the union will be seeking a “strong strike mandate” from each worksite covered by Conifer.
Although USW and Conifer have recently met for a fifth round of bargaining, the two parties could not reach an agreement.
“Unfortunately, the employers came to the table unable to negotiate straightforward proposals,” stated USW in a statement. “Given the strong lumber market, the union believes the employers should come to the bargaining table prepared to address workers’ issues.”
Lumber prices have been high despite the imposition of U.S. import duties in February 2017, upheld by the U.S. Commerce Department in December at an average level of more than 20 per cent. Prices hit record levels in June, pushed by seasonal impact of the 2017 forest fires, severe winter weather and strong demand from the U.S. housing market.
“The employers are having one of the best economic years in decades and workers should share in this prosperity,” said Brian O’Rourke, president of USW Local 1-2017.
The union has proposed changes to the collective agreement that include leave for members struggling with domestic violence, union representation and pension funding improvement.
According to Michael Bryce, Conifer’s executive director, a strike vote is not “completely atypical” of the collective bargaining process.
“We’re working our way though the collective bargaining, and there are several complicated subjects that ultimately are going to require a resolution,” he told Lakes District News. “We [Conifer] are somewhat confident that when we return to the bargaining table we will ultimately be able to work with the union to sort things out and ultimately realize a tempting agreement that will work for both parties.”
Companies involved in the negotiations also include Tolko and West Fraser mills in Williams Lake and Quesnel, Conifex mills in Fort St. James and Mackenzie, and Lakeland, Canfor operations at Fort St. John, Houston, Isle Pierre and Prince George and Dunkley Lumber near Quesnel and Prince George.
Mills in the Burns Lake area could also be affected by the new annual allowable cut (AAC) determination for the Lakes timber supply area. The chief forester will likely have an AAC rationale by summer 2019. The current AAC of approximately 1.6 million cubic metres will remain in effect until a new AAC is determined.
– With files from Tom Fletcher