Fruitvale mill workers get new contract

Mill workers can breathe easier through the holidays after USW Local1-405 signed a tentative deal with the IFLRA

While much of the news on the labour front in the area is rife with uncertainty, approximately 30 ATCO lumber employees in Fruitvale can breathe easier through the holidays.

The United Steelworkers (USW) Local 1-405, which represents over 70 employees working in the Southern Interior for Interior Forest Lumber Relations Association (IFLRA) certified companies, has reached a tentative deal with the IFLRA for a five-year contract.

The two sides have been in negotiations since May to arrive at a settlement for a new contract with the previous agreement having expired in July.

USW Local 1-405 President, Doug Singer, expressed satisfaction on the new deal for the Interior mill workers.

“It’s a five-year agreement with a 13 per cent wage increase over the term,” Singer said.

“As well as a trades adjustment, improvements to pensions and health benefits, and some strong improvements to language around chargehands (non-management lead hand employees).”

Singer said the negotiations proved much more fruitful than they have for some time, largely due to an improved lumber market.

“The price of lumber is at about $380 per thousand board feet as opposed to $200 to $250 like it has been over the last 13 years,” he said. “There have been a number of factors affecting the price increase, the U.S. housing market has bounced back a bit, there have been a number of mill closures reducing the amount of lumber produced, and there are more off-shore markets that didn’t exist previously in China and other parts of Asia.”

Singer said the healthier market for lumber is a welcome change after the industry has suffered for over a decade.

“I’ve been in the industry since the ‘70s and it used to be that just about every town in B.C. had a mill of some sort,” he said. “I’ve known lots of doctors, lawyers, teachers, what have you, and most of them would say that they worked in mills at some point to help pay for their educations. Lumber used to lead the way in the province in wages and benefits. It hasn’t been that way since the ‘90s.”

According to Singer the increase in profitability in the lumber industry has provided an opportunity to make up some lost ground for employees.

“There’s been nothing in the news for years except mill closures and layoffs,” said Singer. “We just tried to get back some improvements in wages and benefits that we lost over the years.”