Western Forest Products, union disagree over mediator as strike drags on

VANCOUVER — Western Forests Products and the union representing about 2,600 striking forest workers in British Columbia say both sides want to begin negotiations but can't agree on a mediator.

The strike began on July 1 and involves hourly employees and contractors, affecting the company's six mills and its timberland operations in the province.

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United Steelworkers local president Brian Butler says in a news release the union is ready to negotiate and well-known mediator Vince Ready has agreed to make himself available for talks.

Butler says the company's refusal to use someone as qualified as Ready indicates it's not serious about reaching an agreement.

Susan Dolinski, vice-president of corporate affairs at Western Forests Products, says in an interview the company has been asking for mediation through the Labour Relations Board for weeks and both sides have expressed their preference for a mediator.

She says the difference of opinion should in no way be interpreted as the company refusing mediation.

"In fact, we made multiple requests to the Labour Relations Board for mediation since June 25. We would certainly welcome a return to the bargaining table."

Dolinski says the timing of the union's announcement came on the heels of an important Labour Relations Board decision where it ruled that the strike was illegal for three company contractors.

The board ruled Thursday that the strike was unlawful for about 105 employees who work for the contractors.

The B.C. Federation of Labour issued a so-called hot edict on the company earlier this week, asking its members to no longer handle Western Forests Products coastal lumber, logs and wood products.

The union says it's on strike over the potential loss of pensions, seniority rights and long-term disability benefits.

Dolinski says the coastal forest industry is experiencing significant market challenges and the strike is only going to exacerbate that situation.

The union says in a release the company continues to conflate problems with fibre shortages and mill closures in the Interior with issues on the coast, which has very different fibre supplies, markets and product values that make them separate industries.

— Companies in this story TSX:WEF

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