Mayors pen letter asking WFP, union to resolve forestry strike

Mayors pen letter asking WFP, union to resolve forestry strike
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Mayors from communities affected by the forestry strike have penned a letter to the union and Western Forest Products.

Six mayors and an acting mayor from communities affected by the Western Forest Products and United Steelworkers labour dispute have penned a letter asking for a resolution to the ongoing strike.

Since July, nearly 3,000 Western Forest Products employees and contracted workers at six Island manufacturing plants and timberlands around the coast have been on strike.

United Steelworkers Local 1-1937 has said it’s on strike over wages, the potential loss of pensions, long-term disability, seniority rights and working conditions.

This week, WFP and USW headed back to the bargaining table.

The Nov. 13 letter, which says “we need both sides to be earnest in their bargaining and seek a resolution as soon as possible,” was signed by Port McNeill Mayor Gabrielle Wickstrom, Port Hardy Mayor Dennis Dugas, Powell River Acting Mayor George Doubt, Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone, Sayward Mayor John MacDonald, North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring and Gold River Mayor Brad Unger.

“As leaders of communities that are severely impacted by the Western Forest Products and United Steelworkers labour dispute, we are compelled to draw your attention to the economic devastation this dispute is causing for the families who live and work in our communities; the people whose support we rely on as the economic backbone of our local economies,” the letter says.

“While we are heartened to see talks have resumed this week, the previous rounds of on-again/off-again negotiations have not been encouraging; more than four months into this dispute, there appears to be little in the way of concrete progress. This is very concerning to us as community leaders.”

The letter also lists the negative impacts of the strike, stating workers have barely earned any income since July and many can’t make ends meet. The mayors wrote that they are beginning to see houses listed for sale, tow trucks repossessing vehicles, hydro being disconnected and food banks having difficulty meeting demands.

“In Ladysmith, (with two WFP mills), dozens of supporting contractors and suppliers rely on these mills as core customers; the impacts of this dispute are extending broadly into the community – well beyond those who are on the picket lines,” the letter says.

According to the mayors, the strike has also led to major layoffs in tertiary industries, including a manufacturing plant in Chemainus. The letter also says challenges with the fibre supply is leading to complications for Paper Excellence operations in Crofton and Port Alberni. Five hundred direct and indirect jobs are also affected in the Powell River area, the letter says.

If this dispute continues, we expect attrition of the workforce will occur with older workers opting to take early retirement and younger workers seeking work in alternative sectors. This dispute is deterring the next generation from wanting to work in this industry, and we are already witnessing highly skilled workers leaving for northern B.C. or Alberta. Additionally, there has been a marked impact on other economic sectors, which rely on a prosperous forestry economy,” the letter says.

“Businesses are feeling the effects of a strike, and those who are already operating on a thin red line might not be able to recover. Restaurants, clothing and furniture stores, and others are part of the economic backbone that keeps people living in our communities. If they are forced to close as a result of this situation, it will have a detrimental effect on future recruitment and retention efforts.”

The mayors wrote they acknowledge there are important issues to sort out between WFP and USW and they are not taking sides.

“As you continue your current round of negotiations, our communities and the families within them are asking you to bargain in good faith. We are asking you to press through your differences for the sake of every family who is struggling. We need you to look across the table and see the faces of your employees or union members, because that’s what this dispute is about. With the strike now into its fifth month, our communities can’t sustain this loss of employment for very much longer. We urge you to stick with the collective bargaining process for the sake of all of those who are experiencing great hardship,” the letter says.

Read the full letter below:


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