Tentative deal reached in eight-month forestry labour dispute

A tentative agreement in an eight-month forestry labour dispute has been struck, days after the province reappointed special mediators.

Western Forest Products and United Steelworkers Local 1-1937 confirmed Monday morning they have agreed to the terms of a tentative collective agreement.

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The tentative agreement is subject to a ratification vote by USW membership. The union's bargaining committee has advised that it will be recommending that its members accept this agreement, a statement from the company said.

"With the assistance of special mediators, Vince Ready and Amanda Rogers, we have reached a fair and equitable agreement that balances the needs of our employees and our business," said Don Demens, president and chief executive officer of Western Forest Products. “This has been a particularly challenging time and I’m pleased that we were able to find common ground through the efforts of all involved.”

The union confirmed to the Times Colonist that a tentative deal has been made.

Brian Butler, president of USW Local 1-1937, said details of the tentative agreement will not be released until members have had the opportunity to review and vote on the deal. “I am pleased to report that the tentative agreement does not contain any concessions, which was a key mandate from our members,” he said.

Port McNeill Mayor Gaby Wickstrom, whose community has been hit hard by the strike, was elated by the news.

“The announcement of a tentative agreement was the best possible news to wake up to,” Wickstrom said in an email.

“It will take some time for people and businesses to dig out of their financial situations, but it’s wonderful to finally be able to look to the future again.”

The provincial government stepped into the coastal forest industry strike on Thursday, giving the two mediators special powers to hammer out an agreement.

Labour Minister Harry Bains cited the devastating impact the dispute has had on forestry-dependent communities as the reason the province got involved.

Nearly 3,000 Western Forest Products’ employees and contracted workers at six Island manufacturing plants and timberlands around the coast have been on strike since July 1, making it the longest-ever strike for the B.C. forest industry.

The two mediators had booked out of the process after not been able to facilitate an agreement. They were brought back and given special powers. Under new terms of reference from the province, they had 10 days starting on Thursday to make a deal.

It a tentative agreement had not been reached, the mediators would have had two days to write recommendations to both parties and B.C.’s labour minister. After that both sides would have had a final five days to accept or decline the recommendations, which the minister could make public.

The union expressed fear that a binding process would follow if a deal wasn’t struck.

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