Despite dour conditions for B.C.’s lumber industry, things are relatively upbeat at Federated Co-operatives Canoe operation.
The positive vibe is due in part to the recent ratification of the collective agreement between Federated and the roughly 220 employees represented by the United Steel Workers Local 141.
Local 141 president Marty Gibbons says negotiations, ongoing for the past two years, concluded with an agreement that sees workers receive significant improvements to language within the agreement, benefits and pay increases of two per cent this year, retroactive to July 1, and another two per cent increase next year.
They will also receive a $500 signing bonus effective immediately, and an additional one in two years.
Federated also came to the table with $1 million for severance pay for 34 senior employees who stopped working with the closure of the sawmill four years ago.
“It’s not very often I commend a company, but Federated Co-op came to the table with $1 million and I believe they’re trying to do what’s right… I actually think they went pretty far and we’re pretty happy with it,” says Gibbons.
And what did Federated get in the agreement? Darrell Embley, vice-president of forest products, says there were some language changes from the industry pattern, used as a template in negotiations, that were tailored to create a “made-in-Canoe” agreement. The end result is that Federated has certainty that when contract negotiations come up again in 2013, there should be no labour disruptions.
“But you know, here, the relationship that we have with our employees has been excellent,” says Embley. “The morale is good. We have jointly addressed issues and significantly improved the performance of this plywood plant. The sawmill is a different story, but the plywood plant has performed exceptionally well and we continue to improve.”
Embley says he’s not surprised by the overwhelming endorsement of the agreement, noting nobody was interested in seeing labour disrupted.
“In this economy, our profitability is marginal as are all the forest companies virtually across North America,” said Embley. “Now is not the time to be demanding or looking for significant increases in wages and benefits.”
Gibbons was also see thrilled to see the agreement ratified given that Federated had put the Canoe operation on the market. But Embley indicated there’s little likelihood of that happening as there’s little money in the industry for expansion of operations.
That said, he notes Federated is now in a unique position in that it is not losing money and, with the exception of a scheduled shutdown, no work hours have been missed.
“So it’s much better than a lot of our competition that we know,” says Embley. “Our efforts have allowed us to continue to operate and my objective here is to keep that being the case.”