Following rotating strikes at five southern Interior sawmills late last year — including the Heffley Creek Tolko operation — the union representing Kamloops area forestry workers is headed back to the bargaining table.
The United Steelworkers and Interior Forest Labour Relations Association have agreed to three days of bargaining in Kelowna, from Jan. 15 to Jan. 17.
“We’re going back to the table at their [the IFLRA’s] request,” USW 1-417 president Marty Gibbons said.
“We’re still seeking a fair agreement. That doesn’t mean everything we wish and dream for, but any discussions are good discussions,” he said.
The two sides haven’t engaged in talks since Nov. 16 when USW dismissed mediator Dave Schaub and initiated rotating strikes at five operations into December.
According to the IFLRA, 12 days of negotiations had taken place at that point, dating back to Sept. 6.
Union members at Locals 1-405 (Cranbrook), 1-423 (Kelowna) and 1-417 (Kamloops) have been without a new contract for the past six months.
They voted in favour of strike action in October.
Issues raised by the union include being locked into a long-term contract with small wage increases.
Negotiations between the two sides has the union proposing a three per cent per year wage increase over four years, compared to the IFLRA’s offer of two per cent per year over five years, according to a USW bargaining update.
USW Local 1-417 represents forestry workers at mills in Kamloops, Clearwater, Salmon Arm, Merritt and Clinton.
IFLRA president Jeff Roos responed to KTW by email.
“We appreciate that the USW has accepted the opportunity to resume discussions with the IFLRA,” he said.
“In the midst of challenging times in the B.C. forest industry, we believe that we can best conclude an agreement, by sitting down and talking through the issues.”
The IFLRA represents 10 companies, with a total of 2,800 employees across southern B.C.
The entire provincial bargaining committee — representing forestry workers without new contracts in both northern and southern B.C. — will be at the meetings in Kelowna, Gibbons said.