OCTOBER - FROM JEFF BROMLEY, CHAIR OF THE USW WOOD COUNCIL
CAMPAIGN TO PROTECT FORESTRY WORKERS BEING HEARD BY OTTAWA
The USW Wood Council campaign to protect forestry workers through the pandemic and beyond is beginning to be reflected in proposed changes to Employment Insurance (EI). Commitments were made in the Speech from the Throne, which marked the re-opening of Parliament in September.
At the same time, the union is continuing to call for government to put a priority on ending the softwood lumber dispute with the U.S.
Some of the EI changes came forward in earlier interim orders and all of the changes will make it easier for our 14,000 forest industry members to access EI benefits – at least in the short term.
As we have told MPs throughout the summer, our members have literally been short-changed by rules that deny them access to EI even after many years of service and paying into the program.
I believe we should welcome the orders that ensure workers will not be held back from EI benefits if they receive negotiated severance packages or have outstanding vacation pay when they are laid off. An earlier interim order also reduces the number of eligible hours workers must have before making an EI claim. This is particularly problematic when workers are in a cycle of multiple rounds of layoffs.
MAKE CHANGES PERMANENT
The drawback is that these are all one-time or temporary access changes to the Employment Insurance Act. To make them work and make income protection more secure, these provisions must become permanent. That is what we want implemented so that government programs are modernized to respond to our industry as well as to the increasingly uncertain future of employment security in 21st century Canada.
The USW position has always been that enhanced negotiated severance packages were never meant to prevent access to EI benefits. As well, workers should never be penalized for not having used up their vacation allotment prior to being laid off.
COLLECTIVE BARGAINING ALL ABOUT RAISING STANDARDS
Our collective agreements are intended to be better than minimum rights established in employment standards legislation. Workers and their communities must not be held hostage to laws that, instead of assisting them in tough times, punish them for doing an honest day’s work. That is our bottom line and we are continuing to stress that in ongoing meetings with MPs and their staff.
We are saying clearly that the announced access to EI under the current interim orders must be established as a permanent standard in EI legislation.
All Canadians need to know they are protected, pandemic or no pandemic. EI rules that do not do so on a permanent basis are not worth the paper they are written on.
END THE SOFTWOOD LUMBER DISPUTE WITH U.S.
In addition to seeking improved EI protection, we are also asking MPs to make ending the softwood lumber dispute a priority. We also want to ensure that billions of dollars in duties being held in limbo at the Canada-US border be used to backstop loan guarantees to forestry companies equaling 75% of the amount they have paid in duties. Many small mills are suffering from weak cash flow. Quebec has already provided such a loan guarantee.
However, this support to companies has to come with the condition that jobs be maintained and created in Canada -- for Canadians.
I am hoping that meetings with the Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC) will give us another ally in lobbying MPs in the coming months. More on that in the next UPDATE.
YOU CAN HELP
Several of our members have participated in the Zoom calls we have been having with MPs when they are able. If you are interested in doing your part in this campaign, please reach out to me by email, [email protected], or the campaign website: https://www.forestryisforeveryone.ca/contact
Or call me at 604-205-1110.
JULY 27 - FROM JEFF BROMLEY, CHAIR OF THE USW WOOD COUNCIL
LOBBY OF FEDERAL POLITICIANS ON FORESTRY IS FOR EVERYONE
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
Our campaign to save jobs -- by solving the lingering Softwood Lumber Dispute with the U.S., improving worker protection through reforms to the Employment Insurance program, and a request to backstop our industry with loan guarantees -- is going well.
Since the beginning of June, we have met with about 40 Members of Parliament from all political parties, whose ridings include forestry activity.
The next phase will be to move on to meet with MPs who are members of relevant committees such as International Trade, Industry, Human Resources, and Natural Resources.
We will then move on to meet with MPs who have a critic role for their party in areas that are relevant to forestry. We are also seeking to meet with Cabinet ministers, and we have already met with senior staff in the Department of Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.
That department is led by Minister Carla Qualtrough. If you live in her riding (Delta BC), you can call her office at 778-593-4007 and tell her to change Employment Insurance to make it fair for forestry workers!
SUPPORT AND INTEREST
I am happy to report that meetings so far have been met with general support and interest. MPs in all parties understand the need to reform Employment Insurance, and we have received positive feedback on ending the Softwood Lumber Dispute – the unfinished business of the new Canada-US-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA).
We have stressed that the concept of loan guarantees to forestry companies - equaling 75% of the amount they have paid in duties to the U.S. - must be accompanied by stiff conditions that demand companies use such guarantees to rebuild the industry in Canada, with jobs for Canadian workers.
STILL A LONG WAY TO GO
No pledge for immediate action has been made by the MPs who are part of the governing Liberal Party, but the government is a minority, which means opposition parties have more influence (they have more votes combined than the Liberals) to affect public policy.
That means we are in this campaign for the long term and will not stop getting our message to every Member of Parliament.
JOIN US ON ZOOM CALLS IF YOU CAN!
I want to thank USW forestry members who have been able to join us on our calls with MPs. Their first-hand accounts are critical to showing how the roller-coaster extremes of boom-and-bust in the forestry sector have been felt in communities, and how our members have been seriously short-changed by an EI system that works against them, not for them.
Despite paying into the system all their working lives, they find they cannot access it when times are tough. That’s not "insurance," that’s injury.
Any member who is interested in getting involved should contact me and I will add you to our list of lobbyists. It means you will get an invitation to join our Zoom calls when we are able to schedule them. The meetings tend to last not more than a half-hour and you will always be welcome if you are available to join.