Contract negotiations for local forestry workers may come to a head next month as new bargaining dates have been set following a deal struck by a union shop in northern B.C.
United Steelworkers (USW) and the Interior Forestry Labour Relations Association (IFLRA) will meet in Kelowna from May 15 to May 17 to discuss a new contract for workers who have gone without a new deal for nearly a year.
USW 1-417 president Marty Gibbons told KTW the goal is to finalize a new contract as fast as possible.
Complicating the matter for the Kamloops union is an agreement USW Local 1-2017 has signed with the Council on Northern Interior Forest Employment Relations (CONIFER) that will likely set a precedent for talks in the south.
Though not recommended by USW’s provincial bargaining unit as a framework, and with no obligation for other locals to accept it, Gibbons said there is no doubt talks will centre around that agreement as CONIFER represents many of the same companies represented by the IFLRA in southern B.C.
“Has the die been cast? Very likely,” he said.
The CONIFER agreement is a five-year deal retroactive to July 1, 2018, with two per cent increases each year.
Gibbons said that given how profitable 2018 has been for employers, the union finds it difficult to accept a deal with only two per cent increases.
“Our members had high expectations based on the profits their companies had been recording,” he said.
Gibbons said the local bargaining unit hopes to tweak the deal as it sees fit for their membership, who will ultimately have the final decision.
USW locals are autonomous and each site has the ability to accept and reject agreements, Gibbons said.
“You just can’t ignore what the northern locals signed for and, when we get back to the table, we hope to quickly conclude an agreement for our members to sign on,” he said.
Union members at locals 1-417 (Kamloops), 1-405 (Cranbrook) and 1-423 (Kelowna) have been without a new contract since July of 2018 and voted in favour of strike action last October.
Rotating strikes took place in the Kamloops area at the end of 2018, but the two sides were back at the bargaining table in January.
Issues raised by the union include being locked into a long-term contract with small wage increases.
USW Local 1-417 represents forestry workers at mills in Kamloops (the plywood mill in Heffley Creek), Clearwater, Salmon Arm, Merritt and Clinton.