Thursday, April 30, 2009

Compare Tembec Special Request to 1986 Special Deal

Editorial by Ron Fisher

Let us all recall that years ago during the long 1986 five and one half month forest industry strike, there was an attempt to break our union apart during negotiations by our region's biggest employer at that time, Crestbrook Forest Industries. That company looked for a local special deal they named the "Made in the Kootenays" agreement which, at the time as you can imagine, gathered plenty of local support by local residents and local businesses, in Cranbrook especially.

There was a very big public debate staged at the Inn of the South between Crestbrook (who included the Cranbrook Chamber of Commerce on their side) and our local union, IWA 1-405, representing the workers. Wayne Nowlin, our President at that time, was able to use his amazing skills as a great orator, to finally belittle and corner Crestbrook Forest Industries executives demanding them to separate themselves, as a company, from the industry bargaining association, the Interior Forest Labour Relations Association (IFLRA). Our same company P.R. main man Tom Kirk back then finally admitted, after Wayne Nowlin hammered Crestbrook in the public verbal debate, that the Company was legally bound to that agency, the IFLRA, and cannot bargain separately. In comparison, we find out this special deal is the same now with Tembec here in the Cranbrook area today. Like the 1986 special "made in the Kootenays" deal, the IFLRA is the only legal bargaining agency for our region's largest forest industry employer, Tembec. Again, despite the Tembec special request, we find out they cannot legally bargain independently with our union.

Back then in 1986 it was a mis-guided public relations attempt by the employer to dirty the image of the union and the image of its members, people like you and me, for failing to make a special deal. Even though the current economic mess surpasses our own region and our province, it seems that our employer may be attempting to use the very same public relations scheme as back in the 1980's. We should worry that our employer, Tembec, seeks to portray its workers as unwilling to forego a 10% wage reduction as the cause of Tembec's problems. We workers don't make the pulp market happen nor the lumber market sink to the lowest levels in history.

But as back then in 1986, I see the union membership rising to support the union, when back then bus loads of union members marched and circled the Cranbrook office to oppose the Company in its effort to divide and conquer. Tembec has mistakenly discounted the solidarity of our fellowship in this workplace as union members. We can do it again in solidarity and in the understanding that the working people did not create these poor economic times, and the bad lumber and pulp markets.

It remains up to the highly educated and highly paid executives, with good salaries and good bonuses, people like Jim Lopez, Dennis Rounsville, and Jean-Luc Carrier in their job function to figure out our way out of this mess. These company executives are still working. We are not. Let them do their job, but not by putting the blame on our backs as workers!

The responsibility is in management's hands, not ours, to craft the business model that will keep Tembec afloat, and the business model that will get the sawmills running again.

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