United Steelworkers strike hits Vavenby

Union members say wages for workers aren’t keeping up with inflation

Members of United Steelworkers Local 1-417, Fran Johnson and Bryan Spears, participate in rolling strikes at Canfor’s Vavenby site last week. According to union members, they are attempting to get a fair collective agreement so employee wages can keep up with inflation. Photo submitted

Members of the United Steelworkers (USW) Local 1-417 participated in rolling strikes at Canfor’s Vavenby site last week, shutting down operations for 24 hours in an attempt to get a fair collective agreement.

Marty Gibbons, president of USW Local 1-417, said wages for workers aren’t keeping up with inflation and they want Canfor to share some of its profits.

“Over the last number of years, when the industry has had problems, we’ve helped the industry; we’ve taken zero per cent increases on three different years over a period of time, and now that the industry is showing some record profits, our goal is to ensure our wages are following inflation, and by our count we’re behind inflation now,” he said.

Gibbons added the union’s contract expired in July, with negotiations beginning prior to that, but Canfor hasn’t been receptive to the union’s request for the desired wage increase.

Despite the longtime attempts at negotiating, the employer said it can’t afford the pay raises, even though publicly disclosed profits indicate otherwise, he said.

“They just refuse to talk and we’ve been attempting to negotiate for some time; they basically tell us this is all the money there is and that’s it, when we’re well aware of companies like Canfor posting huge quarterly profits and even yearly profits,” Gibbons said.

“As a publicly traded company you can certainly go look it up yourself, you can see their quarterly profit reports and the third quarter this year, Canfor reported $125 million (in profits).”

This strike is the first in 32 years, according to Gibbons, though it won’t be the last if a deal can’t be reached.

He said the union hopes the employer gets the message, loud and clear, because employees will do whatever it takes to get what it sees as a fair contract.

“What we’re asking for is certainly not greedy,” Gibbons added.

“We’re asking for a fair contract that sees their workers at least keep up with the cost of living.”

Jeff Roos, president of the Interior Forest Labour Relations Association (IFLRA), said in an emailed statement that he thinks it’s unfortunate the USW didn’t see the value of continuing discussions.

He added IFLRA was encouraged that the union appeared to be willing to engage in a mediation process in an effort to reach a fair, renewed contract and prior to the USW ending the mediation process, all parties involved had been making progress towards that goal.

“Although we are disappointed the USW has broken off talks and have now started job action through rotating strikes, which negatively impacts the employees involved, we remain open to returning to the table at any time to bargain a fair deal for our employees and the industry,” he said.

Gibbons replied to the comments, saying USW is also prepared to return of the bargain table, but with a stipulation.

“We’re not interested in returning to the bargaining table to have the employers last proposal regurgitated.”

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