Saturday, December 05, 2009

The lockout on the part of the Tembec pulp and paper plant in Pine Falls Manitoba has been ongoing since August 31. 270 members of the USW and the COPE unions are affected. As the following story from the Winnipeg Free Press says they have turned down the arbitration offer from the provincial government, afraid that the company will likely demand even more concessions than its already ridiculous demands. Get all the chips on the table so to speak. To be sure the NDP government is not exactly lining up in solid ranks behind the workers. As a PR exercise the provincial labour minister sent off a letter to the feds asking that the Pine Falls workers be able to collect EI while on layoff. A non-starter to say the least. Considering the recipient of the letter that is something like writing Satan asking him to finance a new cathedral dedicated to the Virgin Mary. As one of the laid off workers in the following story says there is a lot more that the government could be doing. Be that as it may the spectacle of the provincial Conservative opposition trying to make political hay out of the lockout is much more repulsive. If in power the Conservatives wouldn't have even given the cuddly shoulder to cry on that the NDP has restricted itself to doing. Not all members of the Legislature, however, are as cynical as the government and the opposition. According to the Dec. 3rd edition of the Selkirk Journal NDP MLA Greg Dewar, along with local City of Selkirk City Councillor Duane Nicol have been working to solicit donations to the USW/COPE Family Fund to help the workers over the holiday season. The MLA's office will continue to accept donations until the 7th of the month. This man's actions are much more commendable than those of the party that he belongs to. See the end of this post for how you can help these workers and their families. first, here's the story.
Locked-out Tembec workers in Pine Falls have given a big thumbs-down to the province and its offer of binding arbitration to settle the three-month-old labour impasse.

Many of the workers were at the Manitoba legislative building Wednesday to press Premier Greg Selinger and his government to hold the newsprint company more accountable for the lock-out and its economic impact on the town north of Winnipeg. The 270 unionized workers were locked out by the company Aug. 31 after they overwhelmingly rejected a proposal that union officials said called for wage and benefits concessions totalling about 35 per cent.

Observers say at this pace the dispute may never get resolved: either the union will give up or Tembec will close the plant.

Workers said yesterday giving up is not an option, but added it won't be at the hands of an arbitrator under the province's Labour Relations Act. Under the act, either side in a strike or lockout can apply after 60 days for binding arbitration to settle the dispute.

Bill Lavallee, spokesman for the workers, said they don't want to go that route because the company has already signalled that it also wants to reopen the employee pension agreement, which is set to expire in 2013.

Lavallee said it's possible an arbitrator could agree to do that, and that's too big a risk as 65 of the employees are set to retire in five years and 170 of them in 10 years.

He said the province should hold Tembec's feet to the fire by clamping down on the company's forest management licence and removal of timber from the province.

"I'm locked out," Lavallee said. "Why aren't they locked out?"

Workers met with Selinger and Labour Minister Jennifer Howard after being invited to the legislature by Lac du Bonnet Tory Progressive Conservative MLA Gerald Hawranik. (Question: How do you spell "hypocrite" ? Answer: "C..o..n..s..e..r..v..a..t..i..v..e" -Molly )

Howard said during question period she has written to the company in an effort to bring both sides to the table.

"I'm looking forward to a favourable response," she said.

Tory Opposition Leader Hugh McFadyen said the length of the lockout is a blemish on the NDP.

He said in the house that if Gary Doer were still premier, he would have personally settled the dispute long ago. Doer quit about three months ago to become Canada's ambassador to the United States.

Selinger said his government will strengthen provincial pension legislation so that all workers' pensions are better protected, and that the threat to Tembec pensions can't be repeated.

The province appointed a mediator to intervene in labour dispute when it was only 18 days old, but that failed to bring any hint of a resolution.

Tembec, Powerview-Pine Falls' largest employer, has said it needs to achieve immediate reductions in labour costs to improve the competitive position of the plant, reeling from a decline in the North American demand for newsprint.

Tembec, which posted a loss of $38 million in the second quarter, has wood product, pulp, paperboard and newsprint plants across the country.

North American demand for newsprint has dropped almost 50 per cent since 2003 and the reduction in demand from 2008 to 2009 alone is equivalent to the capacity of seven or eight plants the size of Pine Falls (which can produce 180,000 tonnes of newsprint per year).
Want to help the Pine Falls workers at this hard time ? Here's how. You can send cheques to the USW & COPE Family Fund, earmarked for same via the Wings of Power Community and Family Resource Centre, Box 66, Pine Falls, MB R0E 1M0. All donations are tax deductible if you are Canadian. Make sure to tag the cheques as 'USW & COPE Family Fund' even though they should be made out to 'Wings of Power'.


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