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Mediators pull out of talks in bitter, 8-month Vancouver Island forestry strike

Striking United Steelworkers forestry workers seen on the picket line in Chemainus in January, 2020. Global News

The opposition BC Liberals are calling for the province to intervene after a hopes to end a protracted forestry strike on Vancouver Island suffered another blow Tuesday.

Veteran mediators Vince Ready and Amanda Rogers have pulled out of talks between Western Forest Products (WFP) and the United Steelworkers Local 1-1937 (USW), according to the company.

WFP says the mediators announced the decision in a letter Tuesday, “as they see no basis for a negotiated settlement at this time.”

READ MORE: Talks in bitter B.C. forestry strike could resume Sunday, says union

“We are disappointed that despite previous proposals offering superior wage and contract provisions to what the USW and the forest sector have agreed to throughout British Columbia we have been unable to reach a negotiated settlement,” said WFP president and CEO Don Demens in a statement.

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“We will continue to explore all options available to bring an end to the prolonged USW strike and have reached out to the Ministry of Labour to seek clarification on next steps.”

In a statement posted to its website, the union blamed the withdrawal on the company, who it accused of refusing to move off of demands for concessions.

“It is truly unfortunate that WFP has put corporate greed over our members’ rights to have safe and secure jobs,” said local first vice-president Rick Nelson in the statement.

“It is clear to the union that WFP’s refusal to move on a single issue dating back to November is at the centre of the mediators’ withdrawal.”

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BC Liberal MLA and forestry critic John Rustad said it is time for the government to get off the sidelines and strike an industrial inquiry commission.

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“What that would do is set the stage. It would make some recommendations about the bargaining positions …. various positions of the players, what that is related to industry, and make some recommendations as to how it can be resolved,” he said.

“That then can lay the foundation for a successful negotiation.”

Rustad said people in the logging industry and Vancouver Island communities are moving away, while others are blowing through their life savings to feed their families as the strike drags on.

“The government needs to recognize there are too many people being impacted here,” said Rustad.  “It’s time to step up to the plate and do the right thing to help bring this strike to a conclusion.”

Labour Minister Harry Bains issued a statement Tuesday saying he was “disappointed” that the mediators had pulled out.

“As a result, I am considering options available to government in order to help parties move forward in the collective bargaining process,” said Bains.

READ MORE: B.C. puts up $5M for forestry strike, but critics not impressed

“The impact of this dispute is being felt by many in the province and action is needed to ensure a vibrant coastal forest sector in BC with sustainable jobs now and into the future.”

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About 3,000 unionized workers and contractors have been off the job since July 1.

The bitter strike has now dragged on for more then eight months, a situation B.C. Premier John Horgan has described as “unprecedented.”

However, the province’s NDP government has resisted intervening in the dispute, saying the best solution is one reached the bargaining table.

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