by Michael Potestio
Kamloops This Week

Unionized forestry workers are prepared to head to the picket line after a strike vote returned an overwhelming show of support.

Without a new collective agreement since July, United Steelworkers members in Kamloops, Kelowna and Cranbrook have voted 98 per cent in favour of a strike.

Gibbons, the president of the Local 1-417 of the United Steelworkers Union which represents about 140 workers at Aspen Planers in Merritt, said the union received a good turnout, but wouldn’t provide specific numbers as to how many of the 3,500 members participated in the vote.

“The vast majority of members have voted,” Gibbons said.

With a mandate now in place, the union will need to give 72-hour strike notice before proceeding with labour action.

“We’re here fully intending to negotiate a contract, not a strike. What comes of this is really up to the employers,” said Gibbons.

The union bargaining committee resumed talks in Kelowna on Tuesday, with the Interior Forestry Labour Relations Association (IFLRA) representing employers.

Gibbons said the offer to date has been insufficient.

“Their offer does not reflect profits their workers have earned them and the profits this industry is going to continue to see,” he said, pointing to recent third-quarter reports from Canfor, Weyerhauser and West Fraser that show hundreds of millions of dollars in profits realized this year.

Gibbons has said the employer is asking for multiple concessions, including a cap on dental work, and is seeking to lock workers in to a long-term contract in the area of five years, with small wage increases.

The 98 per cent strike vote was returned from USW members at Locals 1-405 (Cranbrook), 1-423 (Kelowna) and 1-417 (Kamloops) over a recent 10-day period.

USW Local 1-417 represents forestry workers at mills in Kamloops, Clearwater, Salmon Arm, Merritt and Clinton.