Rotating strike targets Canfor's Prince George Sawmill

Canfor's Prince George Sawmill and chip plant were targeted Thursday as the union representing Northern B.C.'s sawmill workers continued a campaign of rotating strikes.

The move came the same day Canfor said their earnings for the third-quarter doubled from the year before despite lower lumber prices.

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The company's net profit stood at $125.3 million for the quarter, raising the year-to-date total to $407.3 million. On Monday, West Fraser said its earnings for the quarter were $238 million, pushing its year-to-date total to $781 million.

However, both figures are down from the previous quarter, when Canfor took in $169.8 million and West Fraser $346 million.

As of Monday, the price of top-quality two-by-fours at the Prince George Inland Container Terminal stood at US$356 per thousand board feet, down from US$446 at the same point last year, according to Madison's Lumber Reporter.

"We've known all along the employers have been doing quite well this last while and we're cognizance of the fact that lumber has slid down somewhat from where it was but we're just hoping we can get a fair agreement that the membership can accept," United Steelworkers Local 1-2017 business agent Brian O'Rourke said.

Members of United Steelworkers Local 1-2017, which represents 13 sawmills across Northern B.C., have been in a legal strike position since October 6. Ten days later, Tolko's Lakeview Lumber in Williams Lake was the scene of the first of a series of rotating strikes.

Negotiations between the local and the employers' bargaining agent, the Council on Northern Interior Forest Employment Relations (CONIFER), have been at a standstill since mediated talks broke off at the start of this month.

O'Rourke said the focus now is on the southern Interior where sawmill workers in that region are conducting votes on whether to give their bargaining committee a strike mandate and the results should be out by Friday.

He said they're schedule to be back at the table with the Interior Forest Labour Relations Association, the employer's bargaining agent for 16 sawmills in that region, on Tuesday. Three CONIFER members sit on the IFLRA bargaining committee, O'Rourke said.

"We'll see how things go down there and if things go sideways, then we'll be back here at the table, I would have to presume," he said.

CONIFER has offered a five-year contract with two-per-cent wage increases in each of those years.

CONIFER and USW Local 1-2017 negotiating on behalf of 13 sawmills that employ roughly 1,600 workers: Canfor's PG Sawmill and Isle Pierre operations as well as its sawmills in Houston and Fort St. Joh; Lakeland Mills in Prince George; Dunkley Lumber Ltd. south of Hixon; Conifex's mills in Fort St. James and Mackenzie; Babine Forest Products in Burns Lake; Tolko's Lakeview Lumber and Soda Creek mills in Williams Lake and Quest Wood in Quesnel; and West Fraser's Williams Lake Planer.

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