Union, mill purchasers book LRB time

Between 200 and 300 jobs hang in the balance as the company, which bought an idled Savona specialty mill, and its union head for a date with the Labour Relations Board later this month.

The mill's 150 employees have been laid off since June 2009, when Ainsworth Lumber began what was hoped to be a temporary shutdown over the high Canadian dollar and slumping markets for its concrete-forming products. A Lillooet feeder mill was closed at the same time.

Aspen Planers Ltd., which currently operates a Merritt mill, purchased the Savona and Lillooet properties in December. The sale also involves a transfer of timber rights.

So far, however, the company and United Steelworkers Local 1-417 have been unable to reach agreement on terms for reopening the operation.

"It's all very confusing," said Marty Gibbons, president of the local. Laid-off workers have accepted the company's request for a 20-per-cent pay cut, but still there has been no progress. Gibbons isn't sure what the other hurdles might be and the parties haven't met for two months.

"They came to us for assistance and we offered a referral for when they started making money again," he said. "We're highly suspicious their intention is to take the timber to another operation and leave this operation down."

David Gray, Aspen Planers' senior manager, acknowledged there has been no progress in talks to date.

"What was in effect didn't work, doesn't work," he said. "We're trying to sit down and say what will work."

Negotiating through the newspaper would be counter-productive, he added.

"We want to have constructive talks. We want to get the business going."

Gibbons suggested the union is willing to compromise. However, the new owners are legally bound to comply with the southern Interior lumber master agreement agreed to by Ainsworth Lumber, he said.

"Our No. 1 priority is to get our members back to work."

The two operations together represent about 300 jobs.

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