Tentative deal reached in 12 1/2 week coastal forest strike

    Steelworkers say deal will fetter company rights to impose shifts,
    improves safety

    BURNABY, BC, Oct. 15 /CNW/ - Coastal forest industry employers will lose
their unilateral right to impose shift schedules if striking United
Steelworkers' (USW) members ratify a tentative agreement signed Monday by the
USW bargaining committee and Forest Industrial Relations (FIR). Safety and
shift scheduling were the major issues in the dispute.
    If ratified by Steelworkers in votes scheduled for this coming weekend,
the new agreement would end the strike by more than 6,000 workers employed by
FIR member companies who have been off the job since July 21st.
    "We have significantly fettered the industry's unilateral right to impose
new work schedules," said USW Western Canada Director Steve Hunt. "Companies
will now have to justify proposed shift changes with a business rationale and
our members will be able to craft alternatives and access to a dispute
resolution mechanisms, a major gain for our members and their families."
    The tentative agreement also includes major improvements in safety,
including contract language providing the right to refuse unsafe or hazardous
work. Hunt says this makes it unequivocally clear that workers don't need to
risk life or limb, regardless of compulsions of haste or production. The
contract also includes language requiring forest companies to ensure transport
is available for injured contractors and sub-contractors.
    "We had a horrible fatality and inquest into the death of faller Ted
Gramlich and the issue of transportation for contractors and sub-contractors
in this context is a major achievement that will hopefully help to prevent
future tragedies," added Hunt.
    The USW also achieved a new clause providing severance pay for workers
affected by a partial plant closure, something that has long plagued
millworkers. The deal would guarantee workers full severance if "the principal
processing and production part of a plant has not operated" for 24 months.
    "This stops employers from closing their operation permanently and avoid
paying severance because they keep a handful of workers," said USW Wood
Council Chair Bob Matters. "We have fought to make a breakthrough in this area
since the 1980s."
    The settlement calls for pay increases of two per cent, three per cent
and two per cent per year over the three-year term, bringing the basic pay
rate from $23.26 to $24.92 by the third year of the agreement, an important
consideration given the current strong labour market in which the industry
must compete for workers, said Matters.
    The USW bargaining committee has agreed to recommend the settlement to
its members.
    "I'm proud of the solidarity of our members and the support of other
unions, our communities and Steelworkers all over North America. In the
current tough economic situation - a rising Canadian dollar, stagnant lumber
market, the Harper-Bush lumber deal - it would have been easy to give in,"
said Hunt. "We not only kept up solidarity on our picket lines but had support
from Steelworkers and our allies across North America.
    "We were able to pressure the companies back to the table with a number
of significant items that weren't in its 'final offer' tabled in July," added
Matters. "This agreement is a victory for our membership."
    The tentative agreement affects workers employed by FIR companies.
Workers at TimberWest, International Forest Products (Interfor) and Island
Timberlands remain on strike; however, the USW is hoping to conclude
agreements with those companies soon.

For further information:

For further information: Steve Hunt, (604) 816-2554; Bob Matters, (604)

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