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  • Volume Eight, Number Seven: October 2003

    Stormy IWA Convention ends in Merger Proposal

    Marco Procaccini

    Last week’s convention of the Industrial Wood and Allied Workers of Canada, known as the IWA-Canada, in Kelowna last week was anything but sleepy, as delegates voted to consider joining with another organization after dealing with issues of harsh industry negotiations, an oppressive BC government and a clash with other unions.

    Delegates from across the country reported on numerous issues and situations. However, BC dominated much of the three-day convention, as the union struggles against major concession and contracting-out demands by forest industry bosses and the BC government on the coast and Interior, damaging forest policies of the BC Liberal regime and the economic hardship on forest communities resulting from both.

    Twelve thousand coastal IWA members have voted to strike against what they say are some of the harshest corporate demands ever.

    Union President Dave Haggard told the convention, “The FIR (Forest Industrial Relations, the bargaining agency for forest companies) has refused to negotiate seriously or even put forward a serious bargaining position. I invite them to come back to the table and deal with the issues.”

    However, Haggard said he was relieved to receive a telephone request to resume bargaining from FIR boss Terry Lineker, who later told the press that he felt there is too much at stake to allow the impasse to continue and risk a confrontation. But he acknowledged there are deep divisions between the industry’s workers and its leaders, and it will be a difficult process to bridge these gaps.

    "We made an invitation to return to the bargaining table and he has responded positively," said Scott Alexander, communications officer at FIR, the bargaining agent for 61 coastal forest companies.

    BC’s Interior forest operations are also in turmoil, as forest company bosses are calling for a reduction in log hauling fees from truck logging contractors. That is also a concern for the union, since many of its members work for truck logging contractors or directly for forest companies as owner-operators.

    "This is the first time that all the truckers from all the area mills have gotten in the same room and agreed on the same principles, and agreed to stick together," said IWA Local 1-425 financial secretary Terry Tate, whose local includes about 200 own-op truckers, in a press statement. "This is where you draw the line in the sand."

    Haggard said while he is ready to work with industry bosses on concerns of rising costs, he insists the union will not be used as a cash cow to pay for the industry’s woes, which he says appears what bosses are looking for.

    “They are trying to blame everyone else for their failure to invest in upgrading aging mills,” he said. “Now they figure the rest us should have to pick up the tab.”

    But the union is also facing an internal squabble over the recent move by one of its locals, 1-357 in the Fraser Valley, to organize poorly paid and treated workers at newly privatized health care facilities, in particular those run by multinational firms like Compass, thereby undermining the efforts of the Hospital Employees Union, many of whose members have been fired when bosses at public facilities contracted out their jobs to these private firms—a perk of the BC Liberal regime’s Bill 29, passed last year.

    Reportedly, that local has been signing labour contracts with these firms prior to them hiring any employees and that call for wage rates as low as $9 an hour, about half of the standard HEU public health rates, and no benefits or seniority protection.

    Contracts at privatized operations recently organized by the HEU call for wages rates much higher than those of the IWA and include benefits, seniority protection and other on-the-job freedoms. They also call for as much as possible the re-hiring HEU members who lost their jobs as a result of contracting out.

    This recent development has landed the IWA in hot water with both the Canadian Labour Congress and several unions affiliated to the BC Federation of Labour.

    Finally, the delegates voted to consider joining with another union in order to stand up to the ever-growing power of large corporations and the governments they support. Although the 55,000-member IWA has maintained aggressive organizing campaigns, other than the health care situation, delegates felt the need to study a merger idea. Final approval of such a move would have to be voted on by the entire union membership.

     





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