Princeton mill workers could hit picket line this week

Workers at Princeton’s Weyerhaeuser Mill could be walking the picket line this week.

United Steel Workers Local 1423 announced Friday that negotiations with a mediator had broken down, and notice was given that rotating strikes were to begin this week.

Strikes were to start as early as Wednesday at 10 a.m.

“After making some very significant moves to break the logjam between the two parties, the industry still insisted on keeping concessions on the table and dictating conditions of bargaining,” said lead negotiator Bob Matters, in a press release posted to the union’s Facebook page.

Workers at Princeton’s mill, along with employees of other mills in the Southern Interior, have been without a contract since July 1, 2018. In October they voted 98 per cent in favor of a strike mandate. After a flurry of renewed talks with industry they moved to mediation last week.

Related: Negotiators head to mediation in hopes of avoiding Princeton mill strike

“It is unfortunate that the USW did not see value in continuing discussions. We were encouraged that the union appeared to be willing to engage in a mediation process in an effort to reach a fair, renewed contract,” said Jeff Roos, president of the Interior Forest Labour Relations Association, in an email to The Spotlight.

“Prior to the USW ending the mediation process, we had been making progress towards that goal.”

The IFLRA represents 10 member companies, with a total of 17 operating divisions across southern BC with approximately 2,800 employees.

A United Steel Workers Local 1-423 information bulletin, dated October 17, claimed the mill operators are asking for changes to the benefits package that include reducing name brand drug coverage and putting a cap on dental work.

The bulletin also stated the companies want more flexibility to change schedules and to eliminate overtime pay for Saturday clean up crews.

The elimination of a discipline sunset clause, extending the probationary period and eliminating the grading ticket premium were also concessions the union is resisting.

Weyerhaeuser is Princeton’s second largest employer with approximately 200 workers.

According to the USW the company posted a $255 million profit in the third quarter this year.

“Although we are disappointed the USW has broken off talks and has suggested the start of rotating job action, we would be open to returning to the table at any time to bargain a fair deal for our employees and the industry,” said Roos.

Related: Workers at BC Interior mill strike as negotiations resume in Kelowna

Related: B.C. lumber mills struggle with shortage of logs, price slump

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