Labour action has been avoided for the time being after the union representing 3,500 forestry workers in the Kamloops area served a 72-hour strike notice.
United Steelworkers’ bargaining committee agreed to enter into mediated talks with the Interior Forestry Labour Relations Association (IFLRA) to try to hammer out an agreement.
Until mediation is finished both parties are prohibited from engaging in either a strike or a lockout, said USW 1-417 president Marty Gibbons.
“After we have met and worked in good faith to come to an agreement, which can be a couple hours versus a couple months, then one of the parties is able to [dismiss] the mediator — at that point in time, either party may exercise strike or lockout,” Gibbons told KTW.
Both parties are legally obligated under the labour code to bargain in good faith to come to an agreement, he said, noting there is no set timeline that must be given.
“Vary rarely are mediators booked out in an hour,” Gibbons said.
Wage increases and contract length continue to be major stumbling blocks, he said.
Without a new collective agreement since July, USW employees at mills in Kelowna, Cranbrook and Kamloops — the Tolko mill in Heffley among them — last month voted 98 per cent in favour of a strike.
Talks between the union and the IFLRA resumed this past Tuesday, with Gibbons reporting progress as a new employer proposal was tabled, removing many concessions.
That progress, however, was short-lived.
“After two days of attempting to find middle ground, your committee determined the southern employers needed to understand USW members were serious and served 72-hour strike notice,” Gibbons said in a bargaining update to members.
The IFLRA then proposed mediation to the union, which wasn’t opposed to going that route.
According to Gibbons, the parties agreed mediation will be required in order to reach a new agreement without escalating strike action.
Calls to Tolko Industries were not immediately returned.
The schedule for talks moving forward will depend on the availability of the two parties and the mediator.