Employees at two Canfor mills were set to go on strike Sunday but a cooling off period has been ordered instead.
Talks broke down Thursday between Canfor and the United Steelworkers (USW). The two sides have been in active negotiations since June on a new contract for sawmill employees in the B.C. Interior.
"We were making good progress. We were down to the monetary issues, then as of this morning we reached an impasse," said Onkar Athwal, Canfor's vice-president of Human Resources on Thursday.
Attempts to reach USW officials were not successful by deadline.
A recent written statement from senior USW negotiators said "the present offer does not reflect the sacrifices made by our members over the past six years during the severe economic challenges nor does it address wages for production, tradesmen or your pension plan funding."
Armed with the 97 per cent strike mandate after a vote by the workers last week, union officials served 72-hours strike notice for two of the company's interior mills.
"They applied the strike notice to Plateau Mills in Vanderhoof and our mill in Chetwynd," said Athwal. "But they actually can't go on strike in Chetwynd due to a special agreement we have at that mill, which we pointed out to them."
It was a moot point anyway. When strike notice was served it triggered a well-known next option - an official application to the Labour Relations Board for a mediator to step in. Canfor took this action immediately.
Athwal explained that when either side makes the official request for a mediator, it legally triggers a cooling-off period. No strikes or lockouts are allowed for a minimum of 10 days and a maximum of 20 days, to allow a mediator to be appointed and enter the conversation.
"Yes, we had talked about it and the union indicated to us they were hoping we would get a good mediation officer, they are working with us in that sense to assist the process," said Athwal.
He isn't sure who will be appointed or how long it will take to conduct the mediation process, but he was sure both would happen quickly.
"We are optimistic and remain confident we will reach a negotiated settlement with no disruption to our operations," Athwal said. "It's all a matter of perspective but from our point of view we believe a fair and mutually agreeable settlement is achievable."
The two sides are permitted to continue negotiations despite the oncoming mediation, but no further talks were scheduled at the moment, he said.