The United Steelworkers Union is taking aim at some coastal mayors and councils, as the forestry workers strike approaches six-and-a-half months.
In a release, USW Local 1-1937 says the mayors and councils have “wittingly or unwittingly… assisted a select number of logging contractors who continue to beat the WFP drum in an effort to undermine a workers’ right to strike and withdraw their services.”
“These elected individuals need to realize the serious and negative impact that WFP’s contracting out concessions, Drug and Alcohol Policy and unsafe Alternate Shifts, have on the safety, security and dignity of workers and their families,” the union said.
“Before we have another fatality in this industry, government, community leaders and the general public need to understand that, our members strike is not about money; it’s about safety; it’s about job security; it’s about quality of life; it’s about family and it’s about the future.”
Port McNeill mayor Gaby Wickstrom is advocating for both sides to get back to the bargaining table.
She said the strike is devastating coastal communities.
Wickstrom posted a video on her Facebook page, firing back at the union’s criticisms.
She said that she agrees with the union that families deserve better from their community leaders “of which you are one of them: you being the USW and WFP.”
“The fact that this strike has gone on (for) seven months and you are unable to come to a resolution is absolutely unacceptable,” Wickstrom added.
She said took issue with the union’s allegations of community leaders taking sides.
“We are not beating anybody’s drum,” she said. “We are autonomous, we stand alone, we are speaking out for community members who are caught in this lengthy dispute at the moment so no one is beating anybody’s drum.”
Wickstrom also agrees with the company about the importance of such things as quality of life and the future.
“We are thinking about quality of life and there are people who are not having it; we are thinking about the quality of life after the strike is over. There are people that are suffering, there are businesses that are suffering,” she said.
“It’s about family; families are hurting and they are not able to meet the needs for their family members. Children are suffering in this entire situation.”
Wickstrom said there will be a large number of union members who are retiring, while younger workers are being driven out of their communities.
“These people with trades, machine operators, they’re gone, their houses are for sale, and they likely won’t be returning, so where are we going to be? What is our future going to look like if we continue with the strike that we’ve heard is possibly going to go eight, nine, 10 months a year?”
Wickstrom said her goal, “plain and simple” is to get both sides back to the bargaining table.
She added that there are other people hurting, who “make a fraction of what union people make, that don’t have savings, that haven’t been working for 30, 40 years at one job, that don’t have pensions.”
“Those are the people that are hurting; those are the people that have been laid off; those are the people that are struggling and whose EI is pitiful, compared to what other people are getting for strike pay.”
Wickstrom also stressed that nobody is asking for binding arbitration.
“What we’re asking you to do, is get to the table,” Wickstrom said. “I’m reading your letter and I see it’s Western, Western, Western. After seven months, there are two sides, and you have to acknowledge your part in this, as well. Western Forest Products, get back to the table and bargain; USW, get back to the table and bargain.”
She said both sides are dug in, and “we are all caught in the middle.”
Meanwhile, the union said someone losing their life is “not worth continuing in the direction WFP is heading.”
“The Local Union would like to acknowledge the stance community leaders like the Mayor and Council in Port Alberni have taken which acknowledge the rights of workers to bargain their collective agreement without interference and refused to sign onto other community leaders’ letter which supports WFP and attacks workers’ rights,” USW said in the release.
“While the USW continues to work towards a Collective Agreement by revising its proposals and asking for bargaining to resume, WFP has dug in its heels in the hope that by waiting long enough (and if some communities make enough noise) the government may act while they have their unacceptable Union busting contracting out concession on the table.”
The union said that it’s “clear” that WFP doesn’t want to bargain, but instead wants “some of their contractors and some community leaders to continue acting as WFP’s proxy, in pushing for government intervention against the workers’ interests.”