Forestry contractors appeal to province for help amid strike
VICTORIA -- Contractors who rely on the forestry industry – and aren't receiving paycheques due to an ongoing strike – rallied at the B.C. legislature Wednesday, hoping to get what they say is desperately needed help.
Hundreds called on the provincial government to intervene in the Western Forest Products strike that started on July 1. The two sides had not been in talks, but will resume discussions Thursday with help from independent mediators Vince Ready and Amanda Rogers, the company said in a statement. The two sides have agreed to a media blackout during the negotiations.
The union – United Steelworkers local 1-1937 – didn't condone the rally. It has argued the province shouldn’t be involved. In a bargaining update, the union said changes to shifts, which employees believed led to unsafe conditions, were a key sticking point.
The same statement went on to accuse contractor associations of siding with Western Forest Products by asking the government to intervene.
"This rally is a blatant attempt to undermine the union and take up WFP’s desire to have binding arbitration imposed which is completely contrary to the demands of members on strike," wrote the union's president Brian Butler.
Some contractors say the dispute goes beyond the employer and workers, hurting local economies on Vancouver Island. Several said they had trouble paying their bills; others spoke about not being able to put their kids in activities this winter.
“This is the worst, I've been through lots of ups and downs, and you always get through them, but this one's bad and it's not just the strike that's doing it,” said Doug Dyson, who said he spent 51 years working in the forestry industry.
Dennis Dystant, who owns a trucking company that contracts with forestry companies, agreed.
“The strike's a serious problem, but it's a short term problem," Dystant said. "It will be resolved. But if you look at the big picture, there's a lot of issues at stake here that makes it not practical and this province was built on forestry.”
One key issue includes the price companies pay to harvest trees – called a stumpage fee. While B.C. calculates this on an annual basis, some say the Alberta model – which re-calibrates on a monthly basis – is better.
Some of the attendees had also recently met with MLA Claire Trevena and voiced concerns about what they saw as government inaction.
Rally organizers met with Forests Minister Doug Donaldson Wednesday afternoon and said they felt heard.
Earlier this week, Premier John Horgan had said the dispute was a private sector one, and showed no signs of getting involved.
CTV News Vancouver has reached out to the minister for comment on Wednesday. On Thursday, the minister issued a lengthy statement on the rally and his meetings with forestry contractors.
In it, Donaldson describes the contractors as victims of "a perfect storm" of market pressures, climate change, low prices and "unjust duties" on lumber from the United States, in addition to the strike, which he says has dragged on "longer than anyone anticipated."
"I want to thank the truck loggers for bringing their concerns to Victoria," the minister said. "During our meeting, I told them that our government is heartened by the news that both sides are going back to the bargaining table today in hopes of getting a deal and ending the strike. I also told them our government is committed to working with them to support this vital sector."
The minister's statement does not include many specifics on what supports the government will be offering, however, noting only that "coastal rates" for stumpage went down by 24 per cent in October and will be adjusted again next month.
“Looking ahead, I’m confident that B.C.’s forest sector will show its resiliency and innovation to weather our current challenges as it has so many times in the past," Donaldson said.
With files from CTV News Vancouver's Ian Holliday