Forestry workers ratify tentative agreement with Western Forest Products
Published Saturday, February 15, 2020 1:31PM PST Last Updated Saturday, February 15, 2020 7:14PM PST
VANCOUVER -- Unionized forestry workers on Vancouver Island have voted in favour of ratifying a tentative agreement reached with their employer Western Forest Products earlier this week.
A total of 81.9 per cent of members of United Steelworkers Local 1-1937 voted in favour of the deal, the union announced Saturday. The vote officially ends a strike that lasted nearly eight months and wreaked havoc on communities across the North Island.
Union president Brian Butler told CTV News Vancouver Island earlier this week that his bargaining committee was recommending members accept the deal.
On Monday, a tentative deal to end the strike was reached between the union and WFP, meaning a vote in favour of the agreement by union members would end the bitter dispute.
Forestry workers cast ballots at polling stations in Port Alberni, Ladysmith and Powell River on Thursday. On Friday, union members voted in Port McNeill, Gold River and Campbell River.
In a news release, the union described the strike as "an impressive act of solidarity" that achieved much of what members wanted.
On Saturday, Butler told CTV News there are still a significant number of members who are frustrated with the way WFP treated them under their previous contract and the way the company approached negotiations.
"Western will have its work cut out for them in trying to improve the relationship with our members and we hope they enter this collective agreement with the intention of doing so," he said.
The union's release highlighted a 12.5 per cent wage increase over the next four years and four months, increased health and welfare benefits, the introduction of a safety boot allowance and improvements to contract language.
The union also claims it made "zero concessions" to WFP in the agreement, though it notes it did not achieve the goal of ending "what members believe are dangerous alternate shifts." Instead, the union says it "improved the dispute process" by ensuring that the employer must make operational trials of the union's proposed shift schedules.
Some 2,600 workers walked off their jobs at WFP sawmills and sorting facilities on Vancouver Island in July 2019. February was the strike's eighth month.
"(It's the) longest strike we've ever had on the coast of B.C., may also be the longest forest industry strike in B.C. history," Butler said. "(That's) certainly not a goal we were trying to achieve when we started."
The union president said he expects it will take some time for Western Forest Products to fully resume production now that the strike is over. Union members will likely begin receiving calls from the company starting on Tuesday, Butler said.
"It's been an arduous, long journey in this process," he said. "I'm just pleased to be able to deliver to our members what they sought to achieve when we started bargaining."