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‘It’s overwhelming’: Families face cold Christmas as B.C. logging strike talks break down again

B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains says h e will meet "immediately" with both sides in the labour dispute as the bitter strike closes in on six months. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)

Volunteers are working overtime to try and make sure it’s not a cold and gloomy Christmas for the families of striking forestry workers on Vancouver Island.

Mediated talks between Western Forest Products (WFP) and the United Steelworkers (USW) broke down again on Tuesday.

“Negotiations have reached an impasse and no future mediation dates have been scheduled at this time,” the company said in a statement.

Some 3,000 unionized contractors and employees are nearing six months off the job.

READ MORE: ‘It’s heartbreaking’: Vancouver Island communities grapple with logging strike fallout

“It’s heartbreaking,” said Rona Doucette. She and friend Tamara Meggitt have been spearheading a campaign called “Loonies for Loggers,” which has focused on making food, baby formula, diapers and other necessities available to the families of striking workers.

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“They haven’t had a paycheque, they’ve got mortgages, car payments. They’ve got their bills to pay, and they are looking for work elsewhere,” she said.

The pair are now feverishly packing about 300 Christmas hampers for families facing a holiday of hardship.

That’s meant 3 a.m. wake-up calls to get to work, and leaning on their families to free up time to make daily deliveries around the region.

READ MORE: Western Forest Products says contract talks with striking union have stalled

“Right now, we are doing one every day to the different communities. We are delivering hampers as far south as Sooke, as far north as Coal Harbour, and then Powell River,” she said.

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“When we deliver the hampers and they see that we have gifts for the kids and everything, it’s overwhelming because they weren’t expecting that, and now they’ve got gifts that they can put under the tree for their kids.”

Doucette said the hampers include toys, gift cards, turkeys, hams or grocery gift cards so that families can ensure they have a Christmas meal with all the fixings.

Rona Doucette (far right), Tamara Meggitt (far left) and two international students pose in front of a trailer loaded with donated goods for the families of striking loggers. Loonies for Loggers

She added that workers being off the job so long was having a trickle down effect on local businesses, many of whom would normally rely on a Christmas rush to stay in the black for the year.

READ MORE: Forestry industry laying out vision to help struggling sector

Talks between the two sides with mediators Vince Ready and Amanda Rogers resumed this week, after negotiations last broke down in mid-November, prompting hopes of a holiday breakthrough.

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Global News has requested comment from the union.

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Labour Minister Harry Bains said on Wednesday he was “disappointed” in the bargaining impasse.

“I have arranged to immediately meet with representatives of both parties to discuss how to move forward and find a solution,” Bains said in an emailed statement.

“I will be clear to both parties that this dispute is placing an unacceptable burden on coastal forestry communities, and I will strongly recommend to both that they return to the table and get a deal done.”

However, Bains gave no signal he had plans to intervene in the impasse, saying “the best collective agreements come through negotiations.”

The opposition BC Liberals slammed the NDP government Wednesday for their failure to intervene and help resolve the impasse before Christmas.

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“People are losing their vehicles, falling behind on bills, and are barely able to support their families and John Horgan simply ignores them,” BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson said in a statement.

“There are options out there that the NDP can use to get these people back to work,” added Liberal Labour Critic John Martin, noting the USW was a major NDP donor.

READ MORE: ‘It’s heartbreaking’: Vancouver Island communities grapple with logging strike fallout

“It’s absolutely shameful that he’s choosing to ignore thousands of British Columbians for what appears to be purely political reasoning.”

Doucette, meanwhile, said she’s staying neutral in the dispute.

Our whole focus is on the families,” she said. “We would not be here today if it was not for the support of the communities, the businesses and the people that have donated to us.

“Without their support, we wouldn’t be here. And for that, we cannot thank them enough.”

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