Urge shoppers: Don’t buy Western Forest products
PITTSBURGH — In front of 100 Home Depot stores in Canada and the United States, members of the United Steelworkers and environmental activists from the Sierra Club and the Rainforest Action Network will be distributing flyers, Sept. 29, asking shoppers not to buy wood products with Western Forest Products, Interfor and Weyerhaeuser (Cedar One) logos. More than 7,000 loggers and sawmill workers from five local unions affiliated with USW have been on strike in the Canadian northwest since July 21. Their goal is to win an ironclad contract which lessens the hours of work and protects their health and safety.
Workers’ lives are on the line, says British Columbia-based USW Director Steve Hunt, a former miner. “Since 2005, 65 loggers, sawmill workers and truck drivers have been killed at work,” he said in a telephone interview, amid a din of activity at the union hall. “We believe the fatigue factor plays a fatal role. Tree harvest is dangerous work in remote locations. In 2004, the companies, backed by the provincial government, changed the laws governing hours at work. Now, drivers or workers in the forests or sawmills can be on the job 16 hours a day, with alternating shifts. It is dangerous, deadly. We had enough.”
A 2006 coroner’s jury investigating the deaths of forest workers concluded that long hours of work and the corporations’ practice of contracting out jobs proved a fatal combination.
Forest workers are on the road long before the sun comes up and after it sets. Moving logs from the forests to sawmills and other processing facilities means drivers spend hours behind the wheel, hauling heavy loads on mountainous roads. Falling trees, irregular terrain, miserable weather and heavy equipment create a work environment that is perilous for the untrained or tired.
“We are not angry with Home Depot,” Hunt said. “We just want to show the companies that they can not hide injustice in the remote forests of Western Canada. Picket lines are important, but reaching out is more important to compel them to come back to the [bargaining] table.”
Forest workers and environmentalists sat down and hammered out a working coalition. Recently, they stopped a logging shipment destined for processing in the U.S.
“We make a powerful team,” says Hunt. “We stopped them from moving product. To do that it takes a big, dedicated group. We got to know each other when we were trying to stop the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Now, we are standing together for dignity.”
When the Home Depot informational campaign began last month in Canada, the Sierra Club and the Rainforest Action Network joined forest workers in front of the stores. Now they have joined forces to cover stores in both countries.
Since NAFTA lifted tariffs on Canadian wood products coming into the U.S., coupled with the housing boom, corporations are making a killing. While the trade agreement protects and promotes corporate profits, it is dangerous to workers and all residents in North America because it does not provide health and safety standards or environmental regulation.