Forestry Workers Prepare to Vote on ‘Final Offer’

Kamloops forestry workers will decide by June whether or not to accept what the union representing them described as a final offer from the Interior Forest Labour Relations Association (IFLRA).

United Steelworkers locals for Kamloops, Kelowna and Cranbrook met with the IFLRA last week to discuss a new contract for workers who have been without one for nearly a year.

United Steelworkers Local 1-417 president Marty Gibbons said it will take time to co-ordinate votes at every work sites, but noted the goal is to complete the process in about three weeks.

USW’s provincial bargaining committee, however, did not sign off on the agreement being presented, nor has it recommended it be accepted or rejected.

“It’s their decision to make and we support their choice,” Gibbons said of his members.

Gibbons said the two sides were close to a deal, but noted the IFLRA tabled a final offer with some key outstanding issues to which the union couldn’t agree — the main one being the inclusion of an extra cleanup shift.

The proposed agreement is for five years with about two per cent increases every year, retroactive to July 1, 2018.

It’s the same term and wage increase Local 1-2017 accepted from the Council on Northern Interior Forest Employment Relations earlier this year, which was likely to set a precedent for talks in the southern part of the province.

Gibbons said the agreements are similar, but cited a few differences between the two.

“Benefits are better in some areas for one group and vice versa, so is it the north agreement? It’s pretty damn close,” he said.

Gibbons said term and wage increase were not sticking points that led to the bargaining committee not signing off.

As of the end of 2018, USW had been seeking a three per cent per year raise over four years.

“It’s not the agreement we were hoping to bring back, but bargaining is about compromising,” he said.

If the offer is rejected by union membership?

“I guess that’s a bridge we cross when we get there, if we have to,” Gibbons said.

USW 1-417 represents forestry workers at mills throughout the Kamloops region, including the Tolko sawmill in Heffley Creek.

Workers have been without a new contract since the end of June 2018.