Striking loggers received words of encouragement from union and government leadership at a rally in Campbell River Thursday.
Hundreds of United Steelworkers (USW) union members and their supporters gathered in the lot below Western Forest Products’ (WFP) second-storey office in the Discovery Harbour Centre Thursday afternoon.
Holding up signs that read: “Unsociable Alternate Shifts,” “WFP Unfair Drug Policy,” “WFP Bullies of the Woods” among others, the crowd chanted their approval of the speakers.
WFP workers have been on strike since July 1, after 98.8 per cent of the USW members voted in favour of a strike when the two sides couldn’t ratify a collective agreement to replace their previous five-year agreement.
Mediation talks broke down mid-September.
The crowd heard from USW Local 1-1937 President Brian Butler, who said the union wasn’t willing to agree to the 24 concessions brought to the bargaining table.
“Somewhere they calculated that our members are weak. Somewhere they calculated that our union was weak,” he said. “Well I can tell you right now they are dead wrong. We will be on the picket line one day longer than this company is willing to take.”
He was interrupted as the crowd broke into chants of: “One more day.”
Butler referenced a WFP drug and alcohol policy and alternate shift schedules.
“These are dangerous shifts that have long hours,” he said. “They not only put workers in danger, they are shifts that are not conducive to having a quality family life.”
The crowd then heard from USW Local 2009 President Al Bieksa, who was visiting from the Lower Mainland.
“I know the kind of courage it takes to stand on a picket line and go against a multi-billion dollar corporation,” he said. “I know the courage and the determination that every one of you have when you made your decision to stick with your bargaining committee and go on strike for what you say is fair.”
He offered support from the 3,000 members on the Lower Mainland.
Jeff Bromley, the USW Wood Council Chair then addressed concerns over health benefits.
He said that on Sept. 1, a lot of the striking workers’ benefits were cut off, leaving more than 1,000 without access to benefits. But as of this morning, the Coastal Health and Welfare Trustees along with USW Local 1-1937 had entered into an agreement “to provide for your benefits in the same manner they are currently in and so your benefits will be restored if you opt in.”
The workers were congratulated by many of the speakers, including Rachel Blaney, NDP candidate seeking re-election in North Island – Powell River, for their bravery in continuing to strike after nearly three months on the picket line.
“I know it’s hard. I want to recognize that,” she said. “It’s hard to keep standing up every single day, waking up knowing you’ve got to go out there and you’ve got to let people know. And it’s hard on people. It’s hard financially; it’s hard emotionally. And we know that we’re going to last that one extra day, but damn it’s hard when we have to do it every single day.”
Another rally is planned for WFP’s Nanaimo office, but a date and time were not announced.