WFP the Grinch who stole Christmas
Re: USW/WFP strike, who is the Grinch?
Having retired from B.C. politics and four decades of work in the B.C. forest industry on Vancouver Island (most of it representing forest workers as an elected union representative) I have learned a lot about dealing with the diverse labour relations attitudes and styles within the B.C. forest industry. Many of those employers have come and gone; companies like BCFP, Doman Forest Products, MacMillan Bloedel (MB), Pacific Forest Products, Weyerhaeuser, Timber West and Island Timberlands to name a few of the big ones.
Some of those I worked with had fairly good labour relations with the union. One such example was MB. At one of their operations (MB Chemainus Sawmill), they had the team system which recognized the workers as vital and important partners in managing the operation. It created an environment where the workers cared about the business as they felt they were an important part of it. It was a very progressive mill in terms of labour relations, as compared to most employers who sadly had adopted the old top-down, my way or the highway attitude for labour relations, where employees were treated as just a number like Western Forest Products (WFP) operates today.
I have always wondered as a workers’ representative, why employers would want to mistreat the people who they need and rely on to make critical decisions, produce their product and ultimately make their money? Really, why would they think that it was a better strategy to create an environment where workers hate to go to work, rather than treating them with the dignity and respect that they would want for themselves?
Many forest workers face serious risks and dangerous hard work every day in order to make their employers money. In return, all that workers have ever asked is that they have a safe and healthy workplace, a fair wage and benefit package and rights and dignity on the job. It’s not too much to ask for someone who dedicates their working lives to the industry.
Recently I have had an experience which moved me to write this letter. I was talking with some of the forest workers on strike at the WFP Chemainus Mill, the same mill that I had come to look up to as having the most progressive management attitudes to workers that I had ever seen or experienced here in B.C. The Chemainus Mill was one of the crown jewels of all the MacMillan Bloedel operations in B.C., setting records in safety, production and profitability.
Sadly, now when visiting the workers on the picket line, I felt and heard their visceral anger at WFP’s treatment, not just now, but long before the strike began. It tells me volumes as to why this company is behind picket lines.
Some workers expressed their hatred for the CEO and company, which very much surprised me. I said, “really, that’s a strong word?”. How could the same employees who I once saw as very progressive, who worked together with management to help make the Chemainus Mill one of the most profitable mills in B.C., now become the opposite of the happy workers I once knew?
It was really heartbreaking to me to see this drastic change in the workers, who were quick to give me names of former management who had quit the company, leaving in disgust after being told to implement harsh working conditions, such as installing video spy cameras everywhere, developing mean spirited policies to punish employees instead of helping employees who have personal or family issues and in imposing long, unsafe and family life-altering shift schedules.
I ask the CEO of Western Forest Products, is this really the legacy you want to leave; taking the Chemainus Mill from one of the most profitable, productive and best places to work in B.C. and making it a place where the workers are this angry with your working conditions, policies and disrespect?
Maybe you could tell us just how your management style will make your company money long-term when you’re hurting the workers and their families? What you are doing will not work to develop a happy, productive, profitable workplace, not now, not ever! Possibly that is not your goal?
Truly, in 2019, you are the Grinch who stole Christmas from your employees and the coastal communities they work in.
I would not want to be a shareholder with what you have created. It makes me really sad that you don’t understand the labour relations side of the business. These are real people; you have an obligation to make them safe and to rely on them to make your business run; to make your company profitable.
Treating your workers with such disdain, treating them as numbers, will only result in just the opposite of what you should want to achieve.
My advice to you is, think about how you could make this labour relations mess you created into a win-win situation by first acknowledging that a happy worker is a safe and productive worker, then getting back to the bargaining table and work with their elected representatives for solutions.
When you do that instead of attacking workers’ rights, you stand a far better chance to find a partner who will work with you, rather than one forced to take the ultimate step of withdrawing their services. Continuing to do what you are doing isn’t working.
Retired Cowichn Valley MLA
Former IWA/USW president