Mill workers at Tolko Lakeview division in Williams Lake are on strike as of Tuesday morning, Oct. 16.
A couple dozen workers were on the picket line before the sun came up at 4 a.m. to send a message to negotiators that employees are serious about their demands, said Paul French, vice president of the Steelworkers union who was on site.
“We are here because collective bargaining is not going well,” French said.
Motorists travelling past the mill along Highway 20 in the City of Williams Lake honked and waved in support. About 50 unionized workers and 50 contractors are impacted by the job action.
The strike comes the morning that negotiations are scheduled to continue at meetings in Kelowna between Interior Forest Labour Relations Association (IFLRA) and the Steelworkers union, after talks broke down with Council of Northern Interior Forest Industry Relations (Conifer) last week.
Conifer executive director Michael Bryce told the Tribune Tuesday the IFLRA bargaining process is independent of Conifer.
“We were in mediation up until Sept. 28,” Bryce said. “Conifer did make an offer of settlement to the union in mediation. “At the core was a five-year term with a two per cent wage increase in each year for the employees. Unfortunately, the union saw the overall flavour of that offer as not adequate and withdrew from the mediation process. The implication of that is they would in a position to serve strike notice.”
The first step in strike action started over a week ago when union workers began to refuse all overtime work, French said.
The union issued strike notice just before the Thanksgiving long weekend and are in a legal position to strike.
At the heart of the matter is a demand for contract concessions, said French.
“The company wants to claw back things that we fought for and have won years ago,” French said.
“We don’t want to give anything up. We just want a fair deal.”
Bryce said in any bargaining process the union and the employer bring subjects to the table that require resolution from each perspective agenda.
“We have a small component of our agenda still live in the process,” he added.
Tolko operations in Quesnel shut down on the weekend impacting about 100 workers. The company has said market log costs and recovery were the reason for the closure, which is being reviewed on a week by week basis.
This article was updated from the original version earlier Tuesday with comments from Conifer.