Unionized workers at ATCO Wood Products in Fruitvale voted to avoid job action during contract talks.

ATCO employees in Fruitvale exempt from job action

175 USW forestry workers in West Kootenay affected; 738 in the East Kootenay

Mediation will be used to bridge an impasse in contract talks between forestry workers and southern interior forestry employers.

The announcement came Tuesday from the United Steelworkers bargaining committee stating that talks will go to mediation through the B.C. Labour Relations Board following the inability to agree to a new collective agreement.

At the end of October, United Steelworker members in the southern interior, working in the forestry industry, returned a 98 per cent strike vote.

READ: USW IN B.C. Interior return strike vote

Dave Schaub has been appointed to mediate talks between the two parties. Those talks are scheduled for Nov. 14, 15 and 16 in Kelowna.

The locals involved are USW Local 1-405 (Kootenays), USW 1-423 (Kelowna) and USW1-417 (Kamloops).

Jeff Bromley, financial secretary for USW Local 1-405, said there are 175 members impacted in the West Kootenay.

“We have 140 members in Castlegar at Interfor’s sawmill there. And 35 members at ATCO Wood Products in Fruitvale.”

However, employees at ATCO won’t be involved in any job action should mediation fail, explained Bromley.

“In terms of ATCO Wood Products, they are under what’s called a ‘Me Too Agreement.’ That means essentially that they’ve signed on to whatever is negotiated by the broader forestry industry pattern bargaining. For lack of a better term, they’re exempted from what’s going on in this process right now.

“The employer offered them an incentive and the employees voted on it and they were in favour of it. That’s why they are exempt but they are members of the pattern agreement and will be. But they won’t be impacted by any possible job action that may occur as a result of this process.”

Bromley added the talks also impact 738 members in the East Kootenay.

“We have approximately 350 unionized employees with Canfor at Woodlands (Cranbrook and Skookumchuck Chipper; not the Pulp Mill), Elko Sawmill and Radium Sawmill.

“We also have 330 employees at Louisiana Pacific’s Lumber Plant in Golden. Along with 40 members at Galloway Sawmill and 18 members at Stella Jones Pole Plant, also at Galloway.”

In a press release, the union reiterated its viewpoint on the current labour dispute.

“Despite reporting record profits in the 3rd quarter of 2018, Canfor has decided to engage in rotating layoffs at their BC operations, angering USW members in what looks more like a bargaining tactic than a reflection of markets.

“Forestry employers across the province have expressed concerns regarding high stumpage costs. Based on last quarter’s lower lumber prices, that rate is expected to decrease accordingly beginning January of 2019.

“For the members of USW Local 1-2017, Prince George, over 2000 members have been in a strike position since October 6 and participated in an overtime ban and rotating strikes. At the request of the USW Bargaining Committee, job action will be halted prior to and during the mediation process.”

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