Talks end between coastal forestry workers, sawmills

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PRINCE GEORGE, B.C. — B.C.’s coastal forest industry appears to be edging ever closer to a major strike after talks were called off yesterday after just one hour.

The Inudstrial, Wood and Allied Workers union (which represents 12,000 forestry workers) walked away from the table yesterday, with the union’s leader Dave Haggard calling the latest proposal from Forest Industrial Relations (FRI) "crap."

FRI represents 61 coastal employers. The talks were held after a 98.7 per cent vote against FRI’s latest proposal and a one-day walkout last week.

The latest proposal was for a three-year deal which would include a wage increase of one per cent for each of the first two years and a $6-million contribution to workers’ pension plans. However, the proposal called for concessions on travel time and overtime. Haggard said the proposal was "horseshit."

“To say I am disappointed would be an understatement,” Haggard told local media. “I thought when they asked us to come back to a meeting on Remembrance Day, they had something significant. But obviously they are trying to come back to the table with what I consider to be a death knell for our union membership, and I find that offensive. We have told them that we want to go away and study their concessions. It will probably take us a couple of weeks to put a response to that crap together, but we’ll do it as quickly as possible and we’ll give them a counter-proposal.”

FRI spokesman Scott Alexander says producers need to reduce labour costs by 20-30 per cent due mainly to the dispute with the U.S. over softwood lumber.

Workers have been in a legal strike position since September, but Haggard insists there are no plans for a widespread strike in the immediate future.

“We may have some crew get mad and walk off, but that doesn’t mean we’ll have a province-wide strike,” he told local media.

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