Union issues ban on overtime at northern B.C. sawmills

The union representing workers at 13 northern B.C. sawmills has directed its members to cease working overtime as a first step in job action after entering a legal strike position on Saturday.

The United Steelworkers Local 1-2017 and Conifer, the employers' bargaining agent for the region, are at odds over a new contract. Bargaining has reached an impasse that a mediator was unable to resolve.

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The sides, meanwhile, are keeping an eye on negotiations for sawmills in the southern Interior. Talks between the USW and the Interior Forest Labour Relations Association, the bargaining agent for that region are set to resume on Wednesday in Kelowna.

If the IFLRA offers a similar package to Conifer's, a strike vote will be conducted there in the coming days, Local 1-2017 officials said in a posting on their website.

Conifer is offering annual wage increases ranging from 0.5 to 1.5 per cent over five years and is also seeking a series of concessions. The USW counters that given the high price producers are attracting for their product, employees deserve better.

The sides are negotiating on behalf of 13 sawmills that employee 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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