Forestry Workers’ Summit unites workers in effort to strengthen sector

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VICTORIA—Rank-and-file forestry workers, union leaders, policymakers, and researchers gathered to hash out solutions to the crisis facing British Columbia’s forestry industry during a policy summit on March 12 in Victoria.

The summit, jointly hosted by Unifor, the United Steelworkers union (USW), and the Public and Private Workers of Canada (PPWC), was an unprecedented gathering of workers who have experienced firsthand the many mill closures and related job losses in an industry that was once world-renowned.

During the day’s discussions, worker after worker shared dire reports about the future of the industry if fibre supply continued to dwindle.

“One thing was made clear today: the crisis in the industry is driven by a lack of a plan to sustainably harvest fibre and a raw logs export policy that exports jobs,” said Gavin McGarrigle, Unifor Western Regional Director. 

Scott Lunny, USW Director for Western Canada said forestry workers are mobilized: “B.C.’s forestry unions are stepping up to provide leadership. There was unanimity in the room today and I know there can be a bright future for B.C. forestry if good, unionized jobs are a top priority.”

PPWC National President Kelly Johnson was emphatic about the need for government to get started: “We’re ready to get to work with government. Forestry workers, our families, and our communities need action now.”

Premier David Eby delivered a keynote address and pledged to work more closely with labour to ensure workers’ voices are part of his decision-making: “My commitment to you here today is we are going to make sure that we address the issues you have identified around the tables where you're sitting to make sure that your voice is heard and then it turns into real change for members on the ground.”

Participants heard from the authors of a new report examining the current state of the sector. Ken Delaney and Jim Stanford reviewed the worrying trends in the industry, including the dramatic decline in production over the last two decades.

“In recent years, B.C.’s forestry sector has suffered through a perfect storm of environmental, economic, and geopolitical challenges,” said Stanford. “The steep decline in production has wreaked devastating effects on employment, output, exports, and taxes.”

The forestry sector in B.C. supports 44,000 direct jobs and close to 100,000 more indirect jobs. Between the three unions, they represent more than half of all forestry workers in the province.

Source: Unifor