No end in sight to massive logging strike

About 6,000 forestry workers in British Columbia have been on strike since the weekend, with no new talks in sight. The striking members of the United Steelworkers are employed by 32 companies that harvest and process logs from B.C.'s coastal forests of cedar, hemlock and Douglas fir. Picket lines went up on late Saturday afternoon, shutting down the entire coastal forest operations, said Stephen Hunt, union spokesman. Workers want more control over their work schedules, better severance packages and protections to ensure their jobs aren't lost to contract workers, according to Hunt.

The strike — though extensive — is likely to have little impact on Inland Northwest sawmills, said Tim Cochran, associate editor for Random Lengths, a Eugene, Ore.-based wood products newsletter.

"It's not affecting your basic, commodity wood products for home construction," he said.

Though B.C.'s coastal forestry workers produce commodity lumber for the construction industry, most of those products are consumed in Canada, or sold oversees to Asian markets, Cochran said. The imported Canadian lumber that competes directly with Inland Northwest sawmills comes from B.C.'s interior region.

If the strike hangs on, however, it could impact prices for cedar boards, Cochran said. Canada is a large exporter of cedar, which is produced in smaller quantities in the Inland Northwest.

Ron Shewchuk, spokesman for the timber companies, said the employers weren't willing to sweeten their offer, which addressed shift scheduling issues and benefits. "We've gone as far as we're going to go," he said.

Current market conditions provide little incentive for mill owners to come to a speedy resolution, said Kevin Mason of Equity Research Associates. With the strong Canadian dollar and weak U.S. housing market, some companies are losing money. A lull in operations could actually benefit those firms' bottom lines, he said.


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