Employer sues striking union over defamation

Calling a United Steelworkers apology too little too late, TimberWest plans to go through with a threat to sue the Steelworkers after the forestry giant said the union reneged on a deal to retract damaging statements about the company. “We have begun legal action against the Steelworkers union,” TimberWest’s Steve Lorimer confirmed Friday.

Included in the list of defendants in the writ of summons filed Wednesday in B.C.’s Supreme Court is Duncan area Steelworkers union boss, Bill Routley, of Local 1-80. The action is the latest in a series of events that took place last week between the union and the forestry company. Last Monday the company and the union reached an agreement in which the Steelworkers agreed to apologize for inaccurate statements, said Lorimer.

The company wanted the public act of contrition for statements regarding the forestry, environmental, safety and business practices of TimberWest the union made last week at a Sustainable Forestry Initiative industry conference in the U.S., as well as simultaneous news conferences in Vancouver and Salt Lake City, Utah.

At the end of September the union released video images it claimed showed TimberWest’s forestry contractor cutting trees into a small Comox Valley lake.

TimberWest was quick to react and said the lake doesn’t exist, and that the body of water was actually a flooded gravel flat and wanted an apology for the misinformation.

“It’s disappointing that the union reneged on the deal,” said Lorimer.

When reached by the News Leader Pictorial, representative of the union said they had no comment.

In a news release, the company said it received and approved a retraction and apology in the form of a media statement prepared by the Steelworkers.

The union also committed to issue the statement publicly, said Lorimer.

In addition, he said the Steelworkers committed to removing web-links connecting the union’s website to videos the company maintains are defamatory and to striking offensive information regarding TimberWest’s forestry practices from its various websites.

Again last Tuesday, a Steelworkers’ representative confirmed the union will not be issuing the apology publicly, Lorimer said.

“TimberWest is disappointed with the union’s decision to go back on its word and to break the agreement reached in good faith between the two parties,” he said.

Nearly 1,000 Valley steelworkers have been on strike since mid-July after months of negotiations failed to resolve the disputes around wages and other items.

In all, about 7,000 unionized workers at 34 companies are manning picket lines.

Lorimer would not speculate whether the legal action will impact negotiations between the company and the union.

However, president and CEO Paul McElligott said last week in a news release: “Our request for an apology and retraction has nothing to do with the current labour dispute.

“We will not stand by idly when false and defamatory statements are made, and we will vigorously defend ourselves against these malicious attacks.”


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