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Forestry workers encouraged to fight back

Union leader Darrell Wong didn't hold anything back at a public meeting aimed at mobilizing forestry workers against the provincial Liberals.

Union leader Darrell Wong didn't hold anything back at a public meeting aimed at mobilizing forestry workers against the provincial Liberals.

The Wednesday (May 12) night meeting was held at the Sea to Sky Hotel and attracted about 70 individuals who heard Wong, president of the International Woodworkers of America - Canada (IWA) Local 2-171, which represents coastal forestry workers talk about the Liberal forestry initiatives that are killing union jobs around the province.

"It's terrible where it's going and if we don't take it into our own hands it is going to get worse," Wong told the group, which was made up mostly of forest industry workers.

Wong said that removing a requirement that tree farm licences be tied to a sawmill was one of the moves that negatively affects workers. The elimination of cut controls and the recent 20 per cent take back from the biggest companies in the province are two other examples of how government is damaging forestry employment.

Squamish is deeply affected by all three of the examples Wong offered. Interfor's Squamish Lumber mill was curtailed last April and 70 crew members were recently offered voluntary severance packages that are currently being negotiated. Wong believes that if the government still required mills to be tied to tree farm licences, the Squamish mill would still be operating.

As for cut control, Wong said, "There's no longer the requirement that you cut anything. That gives total control to licensees when people work.

"The licensees have total control and we don't think that is good. It's not good for workers and it's not good for communities."

The decision to take back 20 per cent of the harvest from the big companies resulted in the removal of 55 per cent of Tree Farm Licence 38 (TFL 38) from Interfor's holdings. A subsequent reorganization of Interfor's Empire Logging division resulted in the termination of 12 local jobs.

According to Wong, the province is completely unprepared for the number of jobs that will be lost once the 20-per-cent takeback's impact is fully felt. A $75-million forest revitalization trust fund is in place to assist workers impacted by changes in the forest industry.

"There isn't enough money in there to take care of the entire impacts," Wong said.

The union leader warned that in a worst-case scenario, 2,000 coastal forestry jobs could be lost in the near future. One audience member suggested that recent government decisions are part of an effort to reduce the number of loggers with many years of seniority. He theorized that one of the reasons TFL 38 was hit with a 55 per cent take back is because there is a large number of loggers with many years of seniority.

"We are here to see if you are prepared to fight for your jobs and your communities."

Without telling those in attendance who to vote for, Wong promoted the NDP and recommended the workers leave him their names and phone numbers to indicate support for a grassroots movement to mobilize against the current government. "At some point government has some responsibility to the workers and the communities," Wong said.

"We're going back to the war in the woods."

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