Nanaimo Rally Supports "No Concessions" Stand of Forestry Workers

Rally in Nanaimo, November 6, 2019, in support of striking coastal forestry workers. 

Several hundred people from throughout Vancouver Island gathered outside the offices of Western Forest Products (WFP) in Nanaimo on November 6 to demand that the company return to negotiations with the union. The workers, members of United Steelworkers' Local 1-1937, have repeatedly rejected WFP's attempts to impose major concessions which would eliminate wages and working conditions that have been achieved over a period of more than 40 years.

The crowd was full of banners and placards of many unions. Health care workers, ferry workers, teachers and CUPE education workers, longshore workers, several island MPs and many others were out in force to support the just stand of the forestry workers. These workers have been standing firm throughout the strike for a negotiated contract that respects their rights and dignity, both in terms of conditions previously agreed to and an end to unilateral anti-worker actions of the company, many of which were facilitated by a contract imposed through binding arbitration in 2004. Following the very loud and spirited rally outside the WFP offices there was a short march to Nob Hill Park where lunch was served.

USW Local 1-1937 president Brian Butler addresses rally, November 6, 2019.

The rally was addressed by several Steelworkers' leaders including USW Local 1-1937 president Brian Butler, District 3 Director Steve Hunt, Fraser Valley Local 2009 president Al Bieksa, and BC Federation of Labour president Laird Cronk and others. The message from the speakers and the workers was clear, that WFP's refusal to negotiate and its repeated attempts to stall, bully and intimidate through charges at the Labour Board are recognized as attacks on the rights of all and condemned by workers from all sectors and the broad public.

So far there have been four mediation sessions. The last of these ended October 20 when, in spite of the union amending its demands, the company refused to move off of any of its concessionary demands. At least twice the company has written directly to the workers attempting to bypass and undermine the union's bargaining committee. The latest such action was a letter from WFP CEO Don Demens to individual workers on October 31 "offering" binding arbitration and a similar letter to the union from WFP bargaining committee spokesperson Roger MacDougall. The bargaining committee's immediate and firm response to that was a definite NO! 

In the bargaining bulletin issued November 1 the bargaining committee explained "The last time the Local Union faced Binding Arbitration over its Collective Agreement was in 2004, when the BC Liberal Government imposed Binding Arbitration that forced the Union to accept a substandard Collective Agreement which was gutted of many rights the Union had gained over decades of collective bargaining [...]" Workers were "forced to accept the employers' unilateral right to implement alternate shifts, which previously had to be agreed upon between the Parties. This has created untold hardship for members forced to work on fatigue-inducing, unsafe work schedules" and "were also forced to accept whole logging operations being contracted out through what is now known as the Woodlands Letter of Understanding, which led to the introduction of many new contractors and subcontractors, many of which created all kinds of labour relations problems for our members and the Local Union. Their rampant use became a divide and conquer strategy for the Industry." 

The bargaining committee stated, "Many other negative results came from the imposed 2004 contract that still plagues the membership to this day, as a consequence of Binding Arbitration. Repeating mistakes of the past is not the way we will reach a Collective Agreement [...] Binding Arbitration is completely unacceptable. We can never give up control of our Collective Agreement rights to another third party as history does not lie. We have witnessed the damage and suffered the consequences of this dangerous process and could never agree to it."

The day after the rally the union was notified that WFP had agreed to return to mediation. The parties met on November 12, 16 and 17 until WFP decided that it would not respond to the union's last offer on November 17 and mediation ended. 

WFP is one of a handful of forest monopolies that dominate the industry in BC and have benefitted from provincial government policies that have permitted them to make record profits from logging and manufacturing. WFP operates on the coast, mainly on Vancouver Island. While closing mills in BC and shipping raw logs overseas and shipping product to mills in the U.S., Western Forest Products has purchased two sawmills in Arlington and Vancouver, Washington since the beginning of 2018. WFP is the main player in the coastal section of the forest industry, with both logging operations and mills in Cowichan Bay, Chemainus, Ladysmith, Duke Point and Port Alberni. The company recently closed the planer mill at its Saltair Division in Ladysmith. Unfinished lumber is now taken to the two mills in Washington to be planed as a means of getting around tariffs.

Over the last five years the company has reported record profits from the added value created by forestry workers employed by Western and subcontractors, without regard for the well-being of the workers, including their safety on the job and going to and from the job. The current efforts to impose concessions in wages, benefits and working conditions and to increase subcontracting so as to weaken the organization of the workers to defend their rights, have earned them condemnation from not only the forestry workers but from workers and local communities throughout the region.

(Photos: M. Duhra, USW 1-1937)

This article was published in

Number 28 - November 27, 2019

Article Link:
Nanaimo Rally Supports "No Concessions" Stand of Forestry Workers - Barbara Biley


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