Sawmill workers' deal 'phenomenal'

Best contract forestry sector has seen since 1980s, union leader says

Sawmill workers in the southern Interior have ratified a collective agreement that brings substantial wage and benefit improvements over the next five years.

"It's quite phenomenal," said Marty Gibbons, president of United Steelworkers Local 1-417. "We're pretty happy with it."

A 66 per cent majority voted in favour of the tentative agreement reached Nov. 29. About 1,200 members of the local are affected by the settlement.

When a three per cent pension benefit hike is counted, trades workers will see a 26 per cent increase over five years, while production workers receive a 16 per cent increase including the pension component.

Not since the 1980s has the sector seen such an increase, Gibbons said. A shortage of trades workers combined with improved financial performance in the sector were contributing factors in the negotiations, he noted.

"This is the best increase over the years since a guy named Jack Munro was doing it," said Gibbons, referring to the late IWA leader and typical contract settlements in the 1980s.

There are other gains in the agreement, including a $3,400 signing bonus and a laundry list of health-care improvements, he added.

The deal includes gains for union members in apprenticeships. Their living allowances will be doubled to $40 a day and mileage benefits will double to 50 cents a kilometre to attend school.

Recognizing that the deal would sell itself, the union didn't pressure members to vote in the affirmative, partly explaining why support wasn't greater than 66 per cent, Gibbons said.

USW negotiators will use the contract as a "pattern deal" as talks continue in the new year with West Fraser and the Council on Northern Interior Forest Employment Relations.

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