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Steelworkers talk softwood lumber in the U.S.

Bob Matters

After two days of meetings with several U.S. Congressmen and Senators, the U.S. Trade Representative and the Department of Commerce, a delegation of Canadian Steelworkers heard the message loud and clear – a desire to negotiate a softwood lumber settlement sooner rather than later is shared on both sides of the border.

“We had very constructive meetings. All parties were able to agree on one thing – a speedy settlement is in the best interests of both our countries and we need to get this done before the talks are polluted with other trade issues such as dairy or the reopening of NAFTA negotiations,” said the delegation’s leader, Bob Matters, Chair of the Wood Council of the United Steelworkers (USW), in a press release.

“Our experience in the past has shown us that an agreement is possible, the only way forward is to get our governments back to the negotiating table.”

Matters said Washington contacts were facilitated by USW representatives in Washington.

“Duties may not bring back the jobs lost for Americans in the Pacific Northwest, but they are sure to eliminate jobs in Canada if our governments don’t do everything in their power to get a negotiated deal now,” said Beki Jac Christensen, a member of USW Local 1-405 in Cranbrook, B.C. “Regardless of who is to blame for the current loggerhead, the best possible next step is for our two governments to put workers first and settle this agreement before a prolonged dispute puts more Canadians and Americans out of work.”

The Steelworkers told U.S. representatives the clear impact of the preliminary countervailing and anti-dumping duties announced this April,.

“Quebec has been hit hard with layoffs already and more layoffs are pending in our forest-dependent communities,” said Pierre Lablond, member of USW Local 8644 from northern Quebec.

This was the first time that a dozen trade unionists from the Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia forest industry travelled to Washington to present the views of workers north of the border.

“It felt great telling U.S. officials how this is affecting workers. They have already heard from diplomats, Canadian elected officials and our bosses, but to hear directly from the affected workers, from people who are at risk of losing their jobs and who may experience long periods of unemployment, resonated with the U.S. officials. As workers, we brought a new perspective to the table,” said Guy Bourgouin, President of USW Local 1-2010 in northern Ontario.

British Columbia is Canada’s biggest exporter to the U.S. of wood products, said Doug Mooring, a sawmill worker and member of USW Local 1-2017 from Prince George.

“It’s frustrating to know that the reluctance of the U.S. Lumber Coalition to adopt a realistic position is contributing to the current situation. We came to Washington to tell our story, to let the Americans know this isn’t simply a trade dispute between two democratic countries, it’s a problem that is affecting workers regardless of citizenship and the decisions they are making here and in Ottawa have real impacts,” Mooring said. “Our governments, assuming they can work together, have the opportunity to make decisions that will establish security and long-term sustainability for our jobs.”

The delegation returned home, confident that the workers’ voices have been heard. Together Steelworkers know that their experiences and efforts matter, the union will continue to advocate for its members on both sides of the border until a fair and freely negotiated agreement is achieved.

The United Steelworkers is the largest union in the forestry sector in Canada and represents workers in virtually all sectors of the economy.

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