Forests strike a possibility

  • Jun. 18, 2007 10:00 a.m.

by Alex Rinfret–Forest workers on the islands are preparing for the possibility of a summer strike, although negotiations were continuing this week between the United Steelworkers and four employer groups to reach a collective agreement. Darrel Wong, president of United Steelworkers Local 2171, said union reps travelled the coast last week collecting votes from workers, including the approximately 280 union members on Haida Gwaii. Ninety percent voted to give leaders a strike mandate, although Mr. Wong said talks were continuing and he was hoping there would be progress by the end of this week. “The potential is certainly there” for a strike, he said. The Steelworkers’ four-year coastal collective agreement expired June 15. Mr. Wong said the union is hoping to get more control over shift scheduling during this round of negotiations. Since 2003, the companies have had the unilateral right to put workers on any shift. “We’ve got people working six and three, four and four, ten and five, 20 and 10, 14 and seven… a wide variety of shifts,” he said. “All of our members are obviously pretty fed up with the way they’ve been treated over the past few years with alternate shift scheduling.” The other big issue is pay. Forest Industrial Relations, which represents a group of employers, has offered wage increases of 1 percent, 1 percent and 0 percent over three years, Mr. Wong said – an offer which he called “unacceptable”. The Steelworkers want a two-year agreement with the same wage hikes as interior loggers are receiving, he said: 2 percent in the first year and 3 percent in the second year.