Attendees look on during a rally for struggling North Island forestry families at Robert Ostler Park in Campbell River, B.C. on Dec. 16, 2019. Photo by Marissa Tiel/Campbell River Mirror

Island rally for striking foresters goes on despite union denouncement

‘We’re here to support the union just as much as anybody else,’ says organizer

The organizer of a Monday evening rally in Campbell River to support struggling forestry families is “really disappointed” that the union that represents workers told them not to attend.

Organizer Michelle Downey, a member of the newly formed Taking a Stand – Supporting our Resource Jobs in BC group, said the rally was held to support forestry workers and the families that have been out of work for six months.

But on Dec. 14, United Steelworkers Local 1-1937, which represents Western Forest Products workers, told its members not to attend the event, calling it a “contractor rally … disguised as (a) worker rally.”

Downey says that’s not true.

“The notice that came out to the workers was totally untrue and that was offensive and so I’m sad that the union took that stand because this is a rally to support their workers and to bring them food,” she said. “We’re here to support the union just as much as anybody else. So we’re not connected to contractors. We’re here as people that care about our forestry families and our resources.”

Monday’s event at Robert Ostler Park on the foreshore attracted more than 60 people despite blustery weather. In an update on its Facebook page Tuesday, Taking a Stand said the event raised more than $1,000 cash and a truckload of food for union workers. It plans to use the cash to purchase food and deliver everything to Labour Hall Friday.

WFP workers have been on strike since July 1.

It’s taking its toll on the community.

In a Dec. 2 article, John Rustad, the B.C. Liberal forestry critic, told the Canadian Press that on a visit to Campbell River, “a car dealer told him he repossessed 10 vehicles from forestry workers who were out of work. One laid-off worker asked him if he could keep his vehicle until Christmas and sold the dealer a load of firewood to make a payment.”

Downey said part of her motivation to hold the rally was to help her nephew. She says he is a union worker and has four young kids.

“It’s been bothering me about my nephew being out of work and trying to feed his family,” she said.

Monday’s rally received support from Campbell River City Council. Mayor Andy Adams started off the speeches and councillors were in attendance.

“It’s great to see everybody here, but it’s not great to see everybody here,” he said. “I’d rather you guys be out in the bush working, but unfortunately, you’re not.”

Later, at the City’s council meeting, Coun. Ron Kerr presented a motion to support struggling forestry workers and proposed giving $20,000 from the council contingency budget to Loonies for Loggers, a group that has been fundraising to support forestry families caught in the strike.

Robin Modesto, a manager at Interfor, emceed the event.

“This is not about who you work for or who you pledge allegiance,” he said. “This is about our community, about our friends and our families that are struggling through this crisis and we all need to show our support.”

Rustad closed out the speeches.

He said the current state of the forestry industry in B.C. is “probably as bad as I’ve ever seen it.”

“That’s really what this rally is about, is how we find ways to help the families and help the people that have been impacted,” he said. “Thanks for coming out here, for being a voice that helps to raise this issue, that helps to bring attention to the fact that there are struggling families and struggling communities that need help and that quite frankly, deserve to get some.”

Tuesday, WFP announced that talks between them and USW Local 1-1937 had stalled and no mediation dates hace been scheduled.

We’ve reached out to USW Local 1-1937 for comment.


@marissatiel
marissa.tiel@campbellrivermirror.com

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Event organizer Michelle Downey looks on during a rally for struggling North Island forestry families at Robert Ostler Park in Campbell River, B.C. on Dec. 16, 2019. Photo by Marissa Tiel/Campbell River Mirror

Attendees listen to speakers during a rally for struggling North Island forestry families at Robert Ostler Park in Campbell River, B.C. on Dec. 16, 2019. Photo by Marissa Tiel/Campbell River Mirror

Attendees listen to speakers during a rally for struggling North Island forestry families at Robert Ostler Park in Campbell River, B.C. on Dec. 16, 2019. Photo by Marissa Tiel/Campbell River Mirror

Attendees stand during a rally for struggling North Island forestry families at Robert Ostler Park in Campbell River, B.C. on Dec. 16, 2019. Photo by Marissa Tiel/Campbell River Mirror

Nechako Lakes MLA and official opposition critic of Forest, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations John Rustad speaks during a rally for struggling North Island forestry families at Robert Ostler Park in Campbell River, B.C. on Dec. 16, 2019. Photo by Marissa Tiel/Campbell River Mirror

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