Rotating strikes hit Lumby

UPDATE: 4:04 p.m.

Rotating strikes will continue, as long as the union and employer are at odds over a collective agreement, according to the union. 

Both parties have come to an impasse. 

"The disconnect is in the definition of fair and what the employer thinks is fair," says Pat McGregor president of USW Local 1-423 in Kelowna.

The local's members set up a surprise picket line at the White Vally Tolko mill in Lumby Monday morning. 

"Our employees have made it quite certain through giving us a 99 per cent strike vote, and then actually hitting the pavement, that their last offer was not fair to our members and we would like them to rethink their definition and sit down at the table with us and get a deal done that is good for both parties."

Talks between the two sides broke down on November 16.
"The mediator couldn't help us," says McGregor. "We booked the mediator out and we were in a legal strike position Nov. 21 and have started rotating strikes in Southern B.C. across three different locals in Cranbrook, Kamloops and Kelowna just to get the employer's attention and get a fair deal for our membership." 

McGregor says the industry has been doing well over the past five years and the new collective agreement should reflect the industry growth. 

During those five years, they (the employer) made a lot of money. A lot of these big forest companies are investing in their mills and investing in mills in other countries. So we just want a deal that is fair to our members. They have helped make those profits, so we think they should fairly share them with us. We are not asking for anything extreme just a fair deal that reflects our industry today."

The two sides have been without a contract since the last collective agreement expired in June.  

"What I would like to say to the IFLRA is that it is obvious that our members have looked at their last offer to us and they felt that that was far from sufficient ... the message they are sending now is, based on your last offer we would rather be out on the picket line." 

UPDATE: 3:12 p.m.

The president of the Interior Forest Labour Relations Association has provided a response to the USW rotating strikes at Tolko mills throughout the Northern and Southern Interior. 

According to Jeff Roos, the on Nov. 16, the United Steelworkers  Local 1-405, 1-417, 1-423 asked the BC Labour Relations Board mediator, Dave Schaub, to "report out" of the mediation process. This allowed the USW to strike member companies effective November 21 at 8:00 a.m.

"It is unfortunate that the USW did not see value in continuing discussions," wrote Jeff Roos in an email to Castanet. "We were encouraged that the union appeared to be willing to engage in a mediation process in an effort to reach a fair, renewed contract.  Prior to the USW ending the mediation process, we had been making progress towards that goal."

According to Roos, the IFLRA and the USW have been engaged in collective bargaining since September 6th, 2018.  The parties have spent 12 days in negotiations, culminating with three full days of mediation (November 14-16).  

"Although we are disappointed the USW has broken off talks and have now started job action, which negatively impacts the employees involved, we would be open to returning to the table at any time to bargain a fair deal for our employees and the industry."

The IFLRA represents 10 member Companies, with a total of 17 operating divisions across southern BC with approximately 2,800 employees.

ORIGINAL: 1:41 p.m.

Rotating 24-hour strikes have hit the Tolko plant in Lumby. 

Members of the United Steelworkers Local 1-423 are picketing at various Tolko locations today after talks with the employer broke off in mid-November.

"After making some very significant moves to break the logjam between the two parties, the industry still insisted on keeping concessions on the table and dictating conditions on bargaining, stated Bob Matters USW Staff and lead negotiator in an update on Facebook to union members November 16.

The Union says talks broke off after three days of mediation in Kelowna failed to produce an agreement. 

The collective agreement covering forestry workers in the Northern and Southern Interior expired June 30, 2018.

Tolko workers at the Heffley Creek mill near Kamloops are also on strike today.  

Castanet has reached out to the Union for comment but has not received a response.

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