February 4, 2020

First Anniversary of Deaths of Three Rail Workers
in Field, BC Derailment

Growing Demand for
Independent Investigation

Demands from Quebec Public Sector Workers in Health and Social Services
Interview, Jennifer Genest, Spokesperson for the Sectoral Table for the SQEES-FTQ
Interview, Benoît Taillefer, President, Workers' Union, Health and Social Services Centre, Bordeaux-Cartierville-Saint-Laurent (FSSS-CSN)

Forestry Workers' Struggles Across the Country
Support the Just Demands of Striking Coastal Forestry Workers
Closures of Fortress Pulp Mill and Lauzon Sawmill in Thurso,
- Pierre Soublière

First Anniversary of Deaths of Three Rail Workers in Field, BC Derailment

Growing Demand for Independent Investigation

Left to right: Daniel Waldenberger-Bulmer, Andrew Dockrell and Dylan Paradis. Photos are from a fundraising page set up by the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference to assist workers' families.

On February 4, 2019, conductor Dylan Paradis, engineer Andrew Dockrell and trainee Daniel Waldenberger-Bulmer, Canadian Pacific Railway crew members, were killed when their runaway train derailed and plunged 60 metres from a bridge into the Kicking Horse River in BC, near the town of Field, after its air brake system failed. The workers had just taken over the train consisting of three locomotives and 112 cars. All three workers were based in Calgary and were members of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference.

On the occasion of the first anniversary of the death of the workers, the demand is growing for an independent police investigation into the Field derailment in which they lost their lives.

On January 26, CBC TV's the Fifth Estate aired its documentary about the tragedy, Runaway Train. In it, the victims' loved ones expressed their anger at the fact that the CP Rail Police Service shut down its investigation after just a month and that the investigation was limited to only the actions of the crew members prior to the crash. This is the only police investigation into the tragedy.

The documentary features the allegations of a former investigator with CP Rail's police force that the company prevented him from obtaining key witness accounts, withheld evidence, and ordered officers to keep the investigation narrowly focused on the crew. CP Rail denies any cover-up and calls this former investigator a "disgruntled employee" and says it is going to wait for the investigation report from the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) before making any comments on the cause of the tragedy. The TSB report is not expected to be completed for another year.

 Dylan Paradis' mother is demanding a criminal investigation into the deaths. On January 26, Teamsters Canada joined in, calling for an independent RCMP investigation into the deadly incident. The union is also reiterating its call for the federal government to abolish corporate police forces. Two days later, on January 28, the Alberta Federation of Labour also demanded independent investigation into the deaths of the three workers.

"Three of our brothers died in that derailment. If CP has nothing to hide, they should welcome an outside investigation for the sake of the families and all those affected by this disaster," said François Laporte, President of Teamsters Canada.

"Moreover, corporate police forces have no place in the modern world. It is absurd that a company should be able to criminally investigate itself. They'll never find themselves guilty of anything," added Laporte. "We once again call on the government of Canada to abolish all forms of private policing."

There are many reasons that justify an independent criminal investigation into the tragedy.

The CP Police Service's Website states:

"As defined by Section 2 of the Canadian Criminal Code, members have exactly the same powers as every other police officer in Canada. Members can detain, arrest, use force, search and compel people to court and although they are employed by the railway company they are deemed to [be] public servants the same as city police who are employed by the municipality but are agents of the Crown.

"In the United States our members are fully commissioned police officers within the State in which they operate, empowered by that State to enforce the law. The extent to which railway police officers may exercise law enforcement authority and definition of jurisdiction varies by State."

According to the Railway Association of Canada, the CP Police Service was founded in 1913, making it the oldest operation of its kind in Canada. Canada's other Class 1 and passenger railways -- including CN, VIA Rail, GO Transit and more -- all have private police services with the same powers as the CP Police Service.

Under the current neo-liberal state arrangements, the rail monopolies are already self-regulating when it comes to enforcement of safety and other standards. The perpetuation of the CP Police Service under such conditions is an extreme form of self-regulation. The CP Police Service can declare that it has conducted a satisfactory investigation, that it saw no purpose in investigating anything other than the actions of the crew, and this is considered to pass for state authority. No findings have to be published according to the culture of monopoly secrecy that is part of self-regulation. According to CP Rail's response to the Fifth Estate, "As a matter of law, the RCMP has jurisdiction throughout Canada, including on CP's property." That is precisely the language of self-regulation, that the RCMP, or Transport Canada and the federal government, have "jurisdiction." The actual exercise of jurisdiction falls to CP and its police force, with the Canadian state providing CP's decisions with impunity by turning a blind eye. The TSB report is expected to come out in a year, but the TSB has no power to lay charges and can only publish findings and make recommendations.

CP's decision to not investigate anything other than the actions of the crew prior to the crash, with even that part not made public, and only referred to as showing no need for further investigation, leaves in the shade why the train started to move on its own, once it had stopped on that steep hill for an "emergency." It is said that the train was kept immobilized with air brakes only once stopped. CP's manuals are quoted saying how in winter "cold weather increases air leakage in a train's air brake system," and that is a "major challenge." Why were hand brakes not ordered to be applied by CP, in this extreme cold weather, once the train was stopped for an alleged "emergency"? When the takeover crew went into action, it was already too late, the train started to move on its own, out of control. This area is considered to be one of the most dangerous in North America for trains, especially in extreme cold weather. All of this remains unclear, while urgent answers are needed.

The demand for an independent police investigation is not to give carte blanche to the RCMP. It is a demand to break this wall of secrecy and power to act with impunity. It is a rejection of the refusal to render account to the workers and the public because private monopolies are considered the creators of social wealth, while the workers and people are treated as an impediment to these monopolies increasing their narrow private profit at all costs. People want to play an active role in finding out what has happened and want to have a say in remediation and redress which may include charges of criminal negligence against the company. Otherwise, to speak of preventing future tragedies is hollow.

(Photos:TCRC, Railway Workers United)

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Demands from Quebec Public Sector Workers in Health and Social Services

Interview, Jennifer Genest, Spokesperson for the Sectoral Table for the SQEES-FTQ

Workers' Forum: How many members does the Quebec Union of Service Employees, affiliated with the Quebec Federation of Labour (SQEES-FTQ), represent, and what work do they do?

Jennifer Genest: The SQEES represents 25,000 members across Quebec, mainly in the health and social services sector. It represents around 8,000 public sector workers from that sector. More precisely, they are found either in public establishments, such as the large CISSS and CIUSSS (Integrated Health and Social Services and Integrated University Health and Social Services) or in private establishments under agreement, which are health establishments managed by private employers but which benefit from the same working conditions as in the public sector. The SQEES is also the largest union in private residences for the elderly.

WF: What is the main thrust of SQEES sectoral requests?

JG: We are aiming to retain the workforce that is currently there and to attract young people who are not at all attracted to come to work in health, and rightly so I imagine. Our demands are aimed at stabilizing the people who are currently working and attracting new workers.

This is done by different means. For example, we are doing a lot of work on premiums. There are a multitude of premiums in the collective agreement, but they are ineffective and do not correspond to current needs. We are doing a lot of work to update the premiums and add many new ones.

Training premiums are an example. Employees have an obligation to train new work colleagues. However, training premiums currently exist only for those workers in the nursing care category. The whole support and administrative staff trains the new workers for free, so to speak. This increases the work load of these workers but without any additional remuneration. We must make sure that the current benefits enshrined in the collective agreement apply, that workers have access to them. Take the issue of holidays and leave. The current collective agreement is adquate and even generous with regard to holidays and leave, and yet people do not have access to their statutory holidays because there is nobody to replace them. The same applies to various personal leaves, without pay, which require the agreement of the employer. The employer often does not grant them because we do not have the necessary staff to replace these people. There are many things in the collective agreement that do not materialize.

There are critical care premiums in highly specialized services, such as psychiatric emergency services. These premiums are only accessible to nursing staff. They are not for support staff or administrative workers who are just as likely to be hit by aggressive patients.

Our other main demand concerns health and safety.

Rates of physical or psychological injuries have exploded in the health network since the 2015 reform, courtesy of Health Minister Barrette. It's catastrophic. The sums involved are astronomical and there is no prevention done in a concrete and effective way in the health network. The Act respecting occupational health and safety provides for various mechanisms for enforcing prevention in establishments, but these are based on the assessment of the level of risk that exists. There are six categories of employers in the act, but prevention mechanisms are mandatory only in sectors designated as priority sectors, and the health care network is not a priority sector. Besides what is provided for in collective agreements, which is not really binding, employers have no legal obligation to do prevention. However, prevention is the key to success in reducing the level of injuries. It is high time that the health and social services network be recognized as a priority sector by law. In the event that there is no legislative change, the same prevention mechanisms will have to be provided for through collective agreements.

The explosion in the rate of injuries revolves around the shortage of personnel. When there is a shortage of staff, there is an overload of work and when this happens there can be two consequences: a psychological consequence because the burden is such that the workers have to take a leave of absence because of burnout; physical consequences because overworked workers have to work in less than optimal conditions, work alone when there are supposed to be two of them, and work very quickly. This causes accidents.

Employers cannot hire the necessary staff for budgetary reasons.

With the 2015 reform, when the establishments were merged, the budgets for hiring staff were all frozen. We have to do more with less. At the same time, there are many available positions that are posted, but that we are unable to fill because of the conditions.

In addition, in the employers' responses to our demands at the sectoral table, we were given the line that we need to keep doing more with less, that we must keep changing work schedules, or deny people's right to work/family balance, which is a hard-won gain from the negotiations for the last collective agreement.

In conclusion, health and safety is a priority with regard to the SQEES. Of equal priority is the promotion of jobs in the health network by improving working conditions, respecting current working conditions which are included in the collective agreement, retaining those who are currently working and attracting the next generation of workers.

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Interview, Benoît Taillefer, President, Workers' Union, Health and Social Services Centre, Bordeaux-Cartierville-Saint-Laurent (FSSS-CSN)

Workers' Forum: What group of public sector workers do you represent and what are their main concerns and demands?

Benoît Taillefer: I represent workers at the Health and Social Services Centre (CSSS) in Bordeaux-Cartierville-Saint-Laurent in Categories 2 and 3. Category 2 is all the auxiliary services: the care attendants, the kitchen, laundry, and sanitation workers; the skilled and maintenance workers. It is amongst them that one finds the largest number of low-paid workers in health and social services, people at the bottom of the income ladder. Category 3 includes office staff, administrative technicians and agents.

With regard to our demands, the first thing I want to talk about is wages. Our wage demands are legitimate. Since 2005, under the Liberals, we've been trampled on big time in terms of wages. We are asking for a wage adjustment in relation to the private sector and to our needs, which is normal. Wage-wise, we've been going down the ladder since at least 2005. As a priority at the central table, in the first year we are asking for an increase of $3 per hour for everyone. After that, we are asking for an increase of $1 per hour for every year of the three-year agreement, or three per cent and then three per cent per year, whichever is more advantageous. For low-paid workers, an extra dollar an hour in the second and third year may be more advantageous than 3 per cent, while for people with higher wages, the three per cent is more advantageous. At the federation [CSN], we have unanimity on this demand. People with higher salaries, such as teachers and professionals, have agreed to support us. They agree that we should put the priority on those with the lowest wages with the $3 for the first year for everyone. It's a fine example of the solidarity we pride ourselves on.

At the sectoral level, one of the most important issues is privatization, centralization and subcontracting. We are very targeted by this, especially those who are skilled workers. Employers rely on the private sector for such things as snow removal, which makes no sense, or for electrical work that our electricians are perfectly capable of doing. It may be advantageous for the employer to hire workers through private firms, because they are not unionized, do not have the same conditions, have no employment link, or insurance or pension funds. Increasingly, private firms are being called on, even though our people are capable of doing the job, often at a lower cost. The onus is on the union to prove that, which we can do, but it takes an enormous amount of time, while the employer has all the staff to do it and should be doing it. A manager who is efficient should prioritize his own people, especially if it costs less. Our workers have the same competence cards as those from the private sector. In the case where there is a shortage of workers, when the demand is greater than supply, we should hire workers. Of course in the case of skilled workers, we're not attractive compared with the private sector in terms of wages and conditions. Conditions have to be improved to further attract and retain workers.

In terms of health and safety, we want to be considered a priority group within the Act respecting occupational health and safety. This is not currently the case. One of our major problems is psychological distress. The latest statistics reveal that at the level of the federation, 54 per cent of our members suffer from psychological distress. In our sector, this is a major problem. We also have a lot of problems with regard to violence, both verbal and physical, especially when it comes to those who provide home care. Cases are becoming more and more complex, and there is a lot of trivialization of what is happening to care attendants. Increasingly, we are dealing with psychiatric patients. Psychiatric units are opened, with the employer simply decreeing that they are open, but our people are not trained to deal with such situations. Psychological distress is caused by many factors, such as work overload, a lack of appreciation, a lack of autonomy. Those with low wages at the bottom of the ladder do not receive the recognition and appreciation they deserve. We need assistance, more staff, more efficient work plans which include the necessary resources and which are actually implemented. In the current situation, people are being over-worked because they are entirely devoted to getting the job done at all costs, even if that means compromising our health and safety. We also have a lot of physical problems, with people getting injured on the job.

The priority in all of this is wages. Within such adverse conditions, more adequate wages are needed. We need more recognition, wage-wise of course, as well as all-round recognition. The fact that we don't have diplomas doesn't mean that we aren't any good, that we are second class workers or a sub-category. We must be heard, not only for appearances' sake, but really heard, in all the existing bodies.

WF: What do you want to say in conclusion?

BT: Neo-liberal governments are promoting a lot of disinformation about us, that we are the fat cats of the system. It's not true. We deserve public recognition. We must inform people, make them aware. We're only asking for what is owed to us. I think that increasingly the public recognizes this. Our claims are legitimate. We have a lot of people who are very dedicated, who endure in silence, and who are much less prone to present demands than people like me. They are entitled to wage recognition, as well as recognition in all aspects of their work. Be it only for them, presenting demands and fighting are worth it.

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Forestry Workers' Struggles Across the Country

 Support the Just Demands of Striking
Coastal Forestry Workers

Striking WFP workers rally in Nanaimo, November 6, 2019.

Coastal Forestry Workers, members of United Steelworkers Local 1-1937, are approaching the eighth month of their strike against Western Forest Products. In late December the bargaining committee met with local members in Port Alberni, Ladysmith, Powell River, Campbell River and Port McNeill to discuss the status of bargaining and mediation and to address the pressure being put on the workers through statements and actions of some local community leaders and logging contractors. Citing the extreme hardships that are being experienced in these communities as a result of the shutdown of forestry operations, there were demands that the provincial government intervene to impose an arbitrated settlement.

Despite the many months on strike the workers are standing firm in their demands for a negotiated collective agreement which protects their rights to safe working conditions, job security and dignity on the job. Western Forest Products is currently refusing to participate in mediation with two government-appointed mediators, Vince Ready and Amanda Rogers.

The main issues in dispute concern the employer's contractual right (imposed in binding arbitration in 2004) to unilaterally impose shifts with extended hours; split days off and other conditions that are not only dangerous but are also inferior to the minimum standards set by the Employment Standards Act in BC; WFP's contracting out of work; and the company's anti-worker drug and alcohol policy.

In an effort to get the employer back to mediated talks the union revised its proposal on alternative shift schedules over the Christmas break and presented it to the mediators on January 9. After the mediators presented this new position to WFP they reported back to the union bargaining committee that WFP would not comment on the union's proposal nor would it return to mediation unless the union agreed to concessions on contracting out. What WFP wants to do is split logging operations between contractors who would take over specific aspects, with falling going to one contractor, yarding, trucking, road-building, dry-land sort -- all to different contractors. As is already the case in other contracted out operations, contractors would compete for the work, bid low, and then, to ensure their profits, cut corners and cheat the workers on benefits, overtime, travel time, etc. The workers end up isolated from one another and deprived of their collective strength to defend their rights. 

The bargaining committee, in its bulletin of January 10, explained that this is a union busting proposal that the company has been pushing since 1986. "Our Union had a 4 ½ month strike in 1986 in which the Union gained the contracting out protection we have today (Article 25). WFP proposed gutting our members' rights by contracting out during the 2014 negotiations, but withdrew the demand and reached an agreement that led to exceptional profits and put the Company in a sound financial position. Now in 2019/2020 negotiations, they are again demanding our members' jobs be contracted out."

In response to the appeal of some Mayors and council members in the affected communities, that the government intervene to put an end to the strike, the union undertook a series of meetings with elected officials to explain the issues in dispute and why a negotiated settlement and not a contract imposed through arbitration was in the interests of the workers and the communities. Referring to the conditions imposed by the BC Liberal government through arbitration in 2004, the bargaining committee explained "That appointed Arbitrator stripped away USW members' rights to have safe working conditions, when they ripped up the workers right to maintain an eight (8) hour work day and imposed long hours and erratic shift schedules that have workers performing dangerous work while impaired from fatigue and other stressors. The Arbitrator also allowed for a massive contracting out of jobs within the coastal industry, when it introduced Woodland contractors. This shameful action in 2004 set the wheels in motion that created the unsafe and unfair conditions workers face today." It was government intervention in 2004 that resulted in the imposition of working conditions that do not meet the minimum standards that apply to all workers in BC.

President of USW Local 6717 travels from Saskatchewan to Vancouver Island at the end of 2019
to bring solidarity and financial support to striking forestry workers.

In the affected communities fund-raising activities and other expressions of support for the forestry workers continue, the most recent being a barbecue in Campbell River organized by Loonies for Loggers which raised almost $12,000 on January 25. The bargaining committee reported in its most recent bargaining bulletin that in meetings with Mayors and council members in the affected communities workers were able to explain their insistence on a negotiated settlement that protects their job security, safety and dignity and received a positive response.

The broad community support for the striking workers was reflected in a visit to the picket lines by Port Hardy Secondary School students who baked cookies for the strikers. An elementary school class also visited the lines in December 2019 to sing carols to picketers.

(Photos: USW 1-1937)

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Closures of Fortress Pulp Mill and
Lauzon Sawmill in Thurso, Quebec

Two major forestry closures have hit the town of Thurso, Quebec, which is located on the Ottawa River about 45 km east of Gatineau. The Fortress Pulp Mill initially laid off 273 of its 323 workers in early October 2019 while it sought a buyer. On December 12, 2019, the company announced it had been unable to find a buyer and would permanently close the mill. The closure also affects 76 forestry producers in the Outaouais and Laurentides who are awaiting payment for the equivalent of $800,000, according to forestry producers' associations in the region. The producers report that Fortress Global stopped paying for wood deliveries in October. The permanent closure of Fortress thus affects approximately 1,000 workers working in various fields.

Also in October 2019, the Lauzon sawmill announced that it was going out of business, laying off 100 workers. The closure of this sawmill, which produces hardwood flooring, also has a direct impact on 165 forestry workers who supply wood to the sawmill.

The pulp mill was originally acquired by Fortress Cellulose Spécialisée in 2010 at a cost of $3 million. The factory was then closed and converted to produce dissolving pulp, used for the manufacture of textiles and other products. The conversion included the addition of a 24-megawatt cogeneration plant.

The Government of Quebec participated in financing this project with a $102 million loan in 2010, out of a total projected cost of $175 million. Its final cost reached $300 million. In December 2014 the Quebec government agreed to give Fortress until 2026 to start paying back the loan, which was originally supposed to come due on April 30, 2020.

Last September, the Legault government made a $5 million loan in the name of helping the company "maintain the activities of its Thurso factory and the 323 jobs associated with it." Then, on October 8, it granted another loan of $8 million to allow "the establishment of a process to find a strategic investor for its Thurso plant." It has yet to hold the company to account for the $800,000 it owes to the 76 forestry producers.

On December 13, 2019, Fortress Global Enterprises Inc. announced that its "senior secured lenders" would be commencing "restructuring proceedings in respect of the Company and certain of its material subsidiaries under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA)." Investissement Québec is listed on the CCAA filing as a co-applicant/secured creditor, with Fiera Private Debt. Inc. listed as the other co-applicant/secured creditor. Fortress Global Enterprises, three of its subsidiaries and one numbered Quebec company are listed as debtors. Workers in other sectors such as steel have previously exposed the fraud that typifies restructuring under CCAA "insolvency protection," where companies operating in Canada act in service of global empires, and the workers are treated as a disposable force. Thus, the situation facing workers is sorting out how to block these companies from being able to carry out their wrecking.

The Outaouais region was built on forestry and related industries such as pulp, paper and lumber. This production was initially intended to meet the needs for the British for the construction of their marine fleet, and later, of U.S. newspapers for newsprint. In other words, from the start, the development of this industry was not based on a coordinated national effort to have a self-reliant economy, but was and remains dependent on foreign investors and markets and meeting the needs of financial oligarchs, especially those based in the U.S. However, market needs have changed significantly, such as newsprint being replaced with online publications.

The precarious situation in this sector is exacerbated by the anti-social offensive and neo-liberal agreements such as the Canada-U.S.-Mexico Agreement which concentrates decision-making in the hands of the financial oligarchs within the framework of a United States of North American Monopolies. Such arrangements permit investors to easily abscond with the social wealth produced by the workers, while abdicating their social responsibilities to the workers and their communities.

As Workers' Forum explained in 2019 regarding similar closures confronting BC forestry workers and their communities, the aggressive trade agenda of the U.S. imperialists in collusion with big companies in Canada is using U.S. softwood lumber tariffs to raise prices and profits in the U.S. and drive smaller competitors out of business. It also pointed out that “[t]he situation in Canada has worsened with the big companies using the social wealth workers produce to eliminate workers through technological change and to expand forestry operations in the United States.”[1]

The calls from some quarters that the government should be proactive, rather than intervening only when the damage is done, will not be able to resolve this situation in favour of the workers. The anachronistic democratic institutions do not permit working people to have any say in the direction of the economy. Neo-liberal governments act in the service of private interests by providing companies with "financial assistance" and other pay-the-rich schemes. When these companies brutally impose closures, as they have done in the case of Lowe's and many others, such governments claim they can do nothing on the pretext that these are private business decisions over which they have no control.

It not possible to resolve the crisis in the forestry and other resource sectors without taking a step back and adopting a holistic approach to review the direction of the economy, that takes into account the working conditions of workers, the requirements of protection of the natural environment and respect for the hereditary rights of the Indigenous peoples. This can only be done with the contribution of all concerned, in particular that of the producers themselves. The situation facing working people across the country is the need to renew the social, political and economic arrangements and put an end to their marginalization.


1. "BC Forest Industry: The Need to Resolve the Crisis in a Manner that Favours the People," Workers' Forum, June 13, 2019.

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