Why Government Cannot Intervene on the Coast

USW Local 1-1937 has been on strike since July 1st, 2019. The strike was a response to Western Forest Products (WFP) at the bargaining table refusing to withdraw over 20 concessionary demands. Remember that WFP had just finished 2 years of record profits before the work disruption.

Over the past 6 months both the union and company have inched closer to an agreement but only at a snail’s pace. Progress was somewhat stimulated by the firing of the WFP negotiator and being replaced by a WFP Vice President and former Vice President.

The WFP strike now mainly centres on alternate shift scheduling that the union says prohibits members from taking consecutive days off and endangers their safety due to long hours and lack of sleep. Instead of working Monday to Friday, eight hours a day, crews are working four 10-hour shifts. What happens in manufacturing is you take those two 10-hour shifts and have a day shift and afternoon shift. So instead of going to work at 7 a.m. like workers were accustomed to, now they’re going to work at 5 am. Afternoon shifts in manufacturing typically are from 5:00 pm to 3:30 am. On the logging side, there are four days on, four days off shifts, which are 11.6 hours a day and when you factor in a logger who has to travel hours to the work site either way, you can have 14-plus hour days and that can be fatiguing, especially in an industry with an aging workforce.

Workers have consistently complained that these schedules unfairly compress the time between shifts. The impact is that workers only have time to come home, eat, say hi to their spouse and go to bed. There is no ability to volunteer in the community or even have time with their kids. These shifts that the company wants has impacts on families, impacts on fatigue and safety in the workplace.

The union asks that workers be given a say in what shifts are acceptable considering safety, work/life balance, production and other economic markers. The company has refused to give what it calls a “veto” to the union over the type of shift schedules that are economical.

WFP and some logging contractor/owners have asked government to intervene, but the Steelworkers Union has requested that government stay out of the dispute. Remember that this is a private-sector dispute, not a public sector dispute, and government needs to be careful not to take sides. One must remember that the problems facing WFP employees today was created by the Liberal government in 2004 when they forced a binding recommendation process on the parties that stripped away the right of workers to vote on alternate shifts, a right enshrined in Section 37 of the BC Employment Standards Act for those not stripped of the right by an imposed collective agreement provision.

Already Forests Minister Doug Donaldson is reacting to company pressure by his promise that he will provide bridge financing for those who’ve had their equipment repossessed or are in imminent threat of foreclosure. Remember, its these very contractor/owners who are on strike with the union. Their fate is controlled by WFP who controls them through contracts so it should be WFP that offers financial assistance not the government, not taxpayers.

The government is further capitulating through another announcement by the Forests Minister. Donaldson who now says he’s delayed expanding the variable fee-in-lieu payment for raw log exports by six months to all cutting permits on the coast, which was supposed to financially penalize companies that want to ship logs oversees rather than process them in B.C. mills.

Donaldson also said he’s shrunk the penalties and zones for wood fibre recovery, which was another government policy intended to triple fees on companies that fail to bring out usable wood waste (such as broken trees) when they log in certain areas. That policy was supposed to incentivize companies to haul out more waste, which could be used by pulp mills and pellet plants.

Somehow the six-month strike on the Island is only working to the advantage of Forestry Companies, and not to workers and not to the public.

If government really truly wants to get involved they can simply amend Section 3 of the BC Employment Standards Act, repeal the ability to negotiate terms that are less than the minimum protections of the Act and enforce the Section 37 requirement that any agreement to average the hours of work be signed by the employees affected.


The six-month strike notwithstanding, let us not forget that the forest industry has been a cornerstone of the B.C. economy for more than 100 years.

After decades of de-regulation the long-standing social contract between the citizens of British Columbia and corporations that wish to profit from our forests has been shredded.

We believe that BC's forests belong to the people of BC, and must be used to maximize local jobs and community benefits. British Columbia forest workers are proud of our work. We're proud that our work has built British Columbia. We know with urgent action, forestry can continue to support our families, our public services, our communities and our entire province.

Coastal sawmill production has been more than halved in just 25 years. For decades the forest corporations have been the real landlord, the real rent collector of our public resource. Companies have happily paid below-market rent to the government for the trees they cut. That discounted rent, in the form of low stumpage payments, allowed the companies to make handsome profits. These days, the handsomest of those profits come from selling raw logs to out-of-country buyers.

Tree Farm Licences (TFLs) typically encompassed enormous areas of Crown land, which forestry companies paid a token amount to hold on to. Historically, in return for gaining access to huge swaths of publicly owned timber in new TFLs, forestry companies had to agree to send the timber they logged to their own manufacturing facilities to provide local employment, the quid pro quo arrangement known as appurtenancy. This applied equally to the small portions of private lands rolled into the TFLs.

In 2003, the terrible reversal of this decades-long social contract occurred with the passage of the provincial Forestry Revitalization Plan, which proved to be anything but revitalization. Under this statute, the tying of forest tenures such as TFLs to manufacturing facilities and employment was formally ended.

Our BC forestry industry has evolved into a classic high-grading , cut-and-get-out exercise for forestry corporations that are clearly not interested in the long run.

Domestic manufacturers are now frustrated because despite a willingness to pay full market price for logs, some licensees are not willing to share the timber supply, hoarding logs for their export program.

The big issue isn’t log exports, it’s control of the timber supply, and having the timber supply in too few hands.

The position of USW Local 2009 is that the tenure system should encourage raw log use in British Columbia. Fibre should be available to create permanent, sustainable, value added jobs.

The social contract that ties the right to cut down public forests to using those raw logs for manufacturing to create local jobs and community value has been broken. The current tenure system disincentivizes value-added projects, which can be costly and risky. It incentivizes exporting raw logs and encourages forest companies to engage in landlord behaviour.

The government should require stakeholders to contribute to provincially and regionally based targets and strategies for sawmilling, manufacturing, biofuel production and pulp and paper. Compliance with these resulting goals, objectives and targets should become a condition of all forest licenses.

Bill 22- Forest Amendment Act, 2019, which requires forest Minister approval to transfer tenure is a start towards rebuilding that social contract but does not go far enough. Any change to the terms of the original tenure agreement should require a review that mandates the tenure holder to outline how they intend to use their fibre. If the terms change in a way that erode the connection between cutting down trees and processing them in British Columbia, tenure access terms should change as well.

USW Local 2009 advocates for a “use it or lose it” approach to tenure, with clear and transparent information on how the trees in a tenure will be tied to manufacturing. If a company is sitting on a volume of wood they can cut and use for manufacturing but are not doing so, that volume should be redistributed to be used for that purpose.

Domestic processing should act as a mandatory condition of all forest licenses. To gain access to public timber, licensees should be required to produce domestic processing plans and strategies to ensure that the timber they harvest finds its way to domestic processing facilities. Companies without processing facilities of their own should be encouraged and enabled to set up joint ventures or cooperative manufacturing facilities. A company’s failure or refusal to ensure domestic processing should immediately trigger a review of its license.

It is imperative for the future of the forestry industry that we devise methods to encourage investment in domestic manufacturing. Forestry tenure needs to be tied directly to manufacturing commitments. If a company reduces manufacturing capacity at any of its mills the company’s tenure should automatically be adjusted proportionately.

The USW Local 2009 recommends amending the Forestry Act;76 (0.1)

In this section, "agreement" does not include a BC timber sales agreement.

(1) In addition to any penalty, charge or order under this Act or the Forest and Range Practices Act, the minister may suspend, in whole or in part, rights under an agreement if its holder


(e) announces a permanent closing or curtailment of a mill or facility lasting more than 4 months.


(1.2) Without limiting subsection (1), the Minister may reduce or transfer tenure proportionate to the direct amount of decreased production caused by a mill or facility closing or curtailment.

If a company reduces manufacturing production, by either a curtailment lasting greater than four months or by a mill closing, their tenure would be reduced by a direct proportionate amount. For example, if Interfor closed their Hammond Cedar Division the results would be as follows;

• Hammond normally produces 93 million board feet/year

• 93 million board feet = 220,271.00 m3

• Potential production capacity reduced results in a proportionate number of cubic meters being deducted from current tenure

• Interfor Tenure = 3,343,116 m3 - 220,271 m3 = adjusted tenure of 3,120,845m3

Save BC Forest Jobs. Save BC.

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