8/24/07

Unions rally for striking Steelworkers

Union members banded together to show support for Powell River's forestry workers' month-long strike. The crowd included members from the Hospital Employees Union, Canadian Union of Public Employees, Powell River firefighters and BC Ferry and Marine Workers' Union, rallying on Thursday, August 16.

"Time's going on and we thought we'd get a show of support from the community as well as other unions and some families," said Bob Henderson, a strike coordinator. Both sides are no closer to reaching a labour agreement at this time.

USW members at the MacKenzie Sawmill in Surrey recently accepted an agreement with their employers. However, Forest Industrial Relations (FIR), an organization representing 31 forestry companies operating in BC, said this has no bearing on other labour disputes.

"We are trying to get some logging outfits online with the same contracts so we can set a pattern agreement in the logging side of it, not just the mill side of it," said Henderson.

One of the more contentious issues for forestry workers is the employers ability to set shifts and hours.

"The shift issue was a big one," said Henderson.

"I don't know how they can do that, just break the Employment Standards Act, it's a written law," said Dave Mcrae, a forestry worker. "I guess we have the right to fill out time cards, and apparently all you have to do is send in your pay stubs and all the paper work and they have to pay you the overtime, but if you ever do that you'll never get another job."

The problem, loggers said, is Western Forest Products wants to cut in less time so they can move on, lengthening shifts and exhausting workers.

"Western Forest Products only has an allowable cut of approximately 700,000 metres and that's been ongoing for years and years. It has not changed much, actually its been cut back 20 per cent, but now they want us to work a continuous shift so they can get the logging done sooner, faster by contractors, which is shortening our working-year as well," said Henderson. "The allowable cut definitely has not changed for them but the hours of work and our shifts definitely have changed big time."

Fatigue from long hours have contributed to a rise in mortality rates in the industry, Henderson said. "Since 2000, an average of 23 forestry workers lose their lives per year." Since the union was legislated back to work in 2003, the number has grown, he said. "In 2005, 43 forestry workers lost their lives."

"A lot of them were non-union," Mcrae added.

Injuries are commonplace, said another striking worker, Mark Greenan. "What's happening to us out at the sort, we are not getting our hours in the winter. What comes by with that is guys are taking other jobs, now they get hurt, now they can't come back to their job because they have been hurt on another job--they're finished."

A satisfactory agreement is also important because the union sets the bar for all forestry workers, Henderson said, not only for labour standards, but also for the wages that help support communities such as Powell River.

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