Mill workers in Kamloops and beyond may strike next week

Forestry workers are being asked to contemplate the type of job action they prefer as contract negotiations with their employers continue to stall.

Last week, the United Steelworkers bargaining committee — representing union shops in Kamloops, Kelowna and Cranbrook — dismissed mediator Dave Schaub after talks broke down with the Interior Forestry Labour Relations Association (IFLRA).

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The union is expected to collect input from its membership this weekend regarding what specific steps will be taken, with job action likely to take place next week, USW 1-417 president Marty Gibbons told KTW.

“We’re considering every single option at this point in time and there may be rotating strikes,” Gibbons said.

Those options include a varied list, from a ban on working overtime to a full-scale strike.

There are multiple USW 1-417 work sites at which strikes could rotate through, including the Tolko mill in Heffley Creek and Aspen Planers in Merritt.

Without a new collective agreement since July, USW employees in mid-October voted 98 per cent in favour of a strike.

The majority of members took part in the vote, according to the union.

The bargaining committee issued a 72-hour strike notice earlier this month before agreeing to last week’s mediated talks.

According to USW lead negotiator Bob Matters, some progress was made over the course of three days, but he said the employer refused to take certain concessions off the negotiating table.

IFLRA president Jeff Roos declined a telephone interview, but provided email statements which said it was unfortunate the union “did not see value in continuing discussions.

“Although we are disappointed the USW has broken off talks and has suggested the start of rotating job action, we would be open to returning to the table at any time,” Roos said in his emailed statement.

Gibbons wrote in a bargaining update issued Wednesday that “the gap between the two parties is significant, but not insurmountable if the employer would address our membership’s key issues.”

Issues raised by the union include concessions on benefits and being locked into a long-term contract with small wage increases.

Once initiated, USW members at southern Interior mills would join labour action already taking place at mills in northern B.C.

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