The union representing just over 400 workers at Howe Sound Pulp and Paper (HSPP) said it is hoping to avert a strike or lockout at the Port Mellon mill, despite a 99.4 per cent strike vote by its membership on Nov. 29.
“We have a solid strike mandate, but I’m optimistic we’ll be able to successfully bargain a collective agreement with our employer,” Don Rheaume, president of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union (CEP), Local 1119, told Coast Reporter Wednesday afternoon.
The strike vote was taken two days after HSPP indicated negotiations had reached an impasse and applied to the B.C. Labour Relations Board (LRB) for mediation, Rheaume said.
Members voted 99.4 per cent to reject the company’s latest position before endorsing strike action by the same margin, he said, calling the turnout “very high” at 82 per cent.
The LRB, meanwhile, has appointed a mediator and the union expects the mediation process to take place in the middle of January and to last about one week.
“I know it’s an anxious time for the community. It’s an anxious time for our members,” Rheaume said. “But we are still in bargaining and the process is still continuing.”
In a media release Tuesday, CEP national representative Dave Schaub said the company “remains to have significant concessions on their agenda,” but he was hopeful the two sides could reach a deal using a “pattern settlement” as a basis for agreement.
“The parties commenced negotiations to reach a renewed labour agreement on Sept. 14 using the pattern agreement that was reached with both Canfor Pulp and Northwood Pulp in July 2012 as a basis for settlement,” the union said in its release. “The pattern agreement has been ratified in four of five CEP certifications that are part of the pattern bargaining process, with Howe Sound Pulp and Paper being the last employer yet to conclude a new collective agreement with its workers,” the release said.
HSPP management did not return phone calls to Coast Reporter providing comment this week.