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Workers at Cowichan Bay sawmill, off the job

Approximately 120 workers are off the job at the Western Forest Products Cowichan Bay sawmill today because of what the union president is calling a “bargaining tactic.”

President of the United Steelworkers Local 1-1937, Brian Butler said this two-week shutdown is a result of the CEO of Western Forest Products providing United Steelworkers union workers with a bleak economic outlook.

Western Forest Products Director of Communications Babita Khunkhun echoes comments from CEO Don Demens.

“We’re definitely curtailing operations at Cowichan Bay because of market conditions and it’s also related to an environment of persistently high log costs,” said Khunkhun.

Butler said Western Forest Products had a record year in 2018, making $70 million dollars in profit and the future is bright, not bleak.

“What they’re doing is trying to influence our members and try to message them in a letter that the CEO of Western sent out February 28,” said Butler. “He talked about high log costs and weak markets, and operational curtailments when all the markets point to good, solid markets now and going forward.”

Khunkhun said, “Well, it’s more directly tied to aligning our production with market demand.”

Butler said he wants to see changes when it comes to the shifts.

“Fatigue-inducing, we don’t think they’re good for members health, for family health, they are not good for safety in operations, they are long, arduous shifts in a dangerous industry,” said Butler. “We want to see changes and modifications to those shifts, back to what we’ve had in the past, where they need to get approval from the crew before shifts could be implemented.”

Butler expressed his frustration, saying WFP using this tactic is “like clockwork,” as he has seen this strategy employed repeatedly since he started in the industry back in 1980.

The bargaining process is set to begin on April 15.

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