Coastal forestry workers who were on strike for eight months ratify agreement

DUNCAN — Forestry workers on Vancouver Island have voted to ratify a collective agreement, ending a strike that kept 3,000 workers off the job for eight months.

The United Steelworkers Local 1-1937 says in a statement that members voted 81.9 per cent in favour of ratifying the agreement with Western Forest Products.

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Members of the union working for contractors represented by Forest Industrial Relations also ratified the agreement by 93 per cent.

Brian Butler, president of the union local, says members negotiated a contract that achieves many of its goals and did not grant the company concessions on pensions, job security and health and welfare benefits.

However he says the union did not achieve its goal of ending what members believe are "dangerous" alternate shifts.

Instead, he says the dispute process was improved by compelling the company to conduct trials of shift schedules proposed by the union, so that members can show alternative schedules are equally productive and also safer.

"Going forward, it will be incumbent on WFP to understand that simply ignoring the safety of our members and forcing them to work on alternate shifts that members believe will lead to serious injuries and even fatalities, cannot continue," Butler says in the statement.

There is still a small number of ratification votes to be conducted in remote areas of coastal B.C., but the union says it will not significantly alter the percentages noted, the union says.

After the tentative agreement was reached Monday, Port McNeill Mayor Gaby Wickstrom said the strike has been financially devastating to mill workers and businesses that rely on them.

Wickstrom said people were relying on food banks and help from volunteer groups who were donating necessities to families.

Don Demens, president and CEO of Western Forest Products, said in a statement Monday that the deal was reached with the assistance of special mediators Vince Ready and Amanda Rogers.

"This has been a particularly challenging time and I'm pleased that we were able to find common ground through the efforts of all involved," Demens said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 15, 2020.

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