Loggers and other forest industry contractors left out of work due to a six-month strike against Western Forest Products have been heard by the B.C. government and efforts continue to help them keep their homes and trucks, Premier John Horgan said Friday.
Contractors converged on the B.C. legislature Wednesday to call for help from the province, as talks with company officials and the United Steelworkers were scheduled to resume this weekend with mediator Vince Ready.
Mayors of northern Vancouver Island communities wrote to Horgan and the parties in the dispute a month ago, reporting that homes were going up for sale and trucks being repossessed as the strike that began July 1 dragged into the fall.
The situation is getting desperate, the workers said at Wednesday’s rally where they called for reduction in stumpage and relief from new waste penalties that some contractors said were making it too costly to operate.
— Tom Fletcher (@tomfletcherbc) December 14, 2019
Horgan said Forests Minister Doug Donaldson met with a group of rally organizers, but in an interview with Black Press he was careful not to make promises of assistance.
“Obviously they want the dispute resolved and people back to work, but they also understand that the government is trying to put in place a program that will help them bridge the gap so they’re not seeing their trucks get repossessed,” Horgan said.
“They can’t work, but they can’t collect EI, they can’t find other ways to move forward. In the Interior where we’ve had significant curtailments, contractors are at least able to do brush clearing and the other work that needs to be done, because the industry is still operating. But it’s literally shut down here on the coast.”
Horgan said he met with the CEO of Mosaic Forest Management last week, after Vancouver Island’s other large logging company began its seasonal shutdown early. A partnership of Island Timberlands and Timberwest formed in 2018, Mosaic laid off about 2,000 union and non-union employees as well as coastal contractors Nov. 25.
A Mosaic spokesperson cited “very challenging pricing and market conditions.”
The Steelworkers’ objections include new shift schedules and a drug testing policy. Horgan repeated what he has said numerous times in recent months, that it is not the government’s job to resolve private sector labour disputes.
“But it’s also the government’s responsibility to make sure that the unintended consequences, those innocent victims of the labour dispute, whether they be contractors or small businesses in communities like Port Alberni, Port Hardy and Campbell River are not adversely affected,” Horgan said.