t wasn’t always this way – but is it possible we are returning
to some of the big company – small company problems of the long
departed 1930s? Surely not – but let’s have a look –
just for the record.
....On June 15, 1982, the forest industry
in B.C. – as represented by those firms signatory to the master
agreement between the International Woodworkers of America and the majority
of forest companies in B.C. entered the second year of a two-year labor
....This contract called for an increase
of approximately 11 per cent. Meetings were held prior to the deadline
at which the companies – through their negotiators, asked the
IWA to roll back the increase. The Union said no.
So an increase of 11 percent was added to all company payrolls who were
party to the agreement.
....At the same time, it was recognized
that the cost of equipment, goods, and living, had risen from the year
previous by at least four percent, for a total in-crease of about 15
percent in the year between June 15, 1981 and June 15, 1982.
....In addition, the interest rate on capital
outlays for plant and machinery became staggering for those caught in
the unhappy circumstance of not reading the future correctly. And few
could read that future – for we had all experienced years and
years of growth with only minor recessions to mar a few short spells.
But this one was to be different.
....For as long as I can remember, dis-cussions
or negotiations or reviews have occurred on the – contractor clause.
Well, let’s say not as long as I can remember, but for 30-odd
years anyway. I have gone with, and headed delegations to legislative
forest com-mittees in Victoria and Vancouver on many occasions to discuss
the elusive contractor clause. I am sure that good, intelligent committees
are still discussing this clause in the various Tree Farm tenures and
still are not coming up with an iron-clad style of contract between
big company and the
contractor. I don’t
think they ever will – and I hope they never do!
.... All the terms of reference can be worked
out in such a contract, except one. ‘How long,’ can be defined.
‘How to do it,’ can be stated. ‘Who’s to do it,’
is easy. But ‘how much’ is in the hands of two individuals.
To regulate a fixed price, destroys the initiative that the contract logger
has spent decades honing.
....When the IWA refused the request of the
negotiators to roll back the 11 percent increase on June 15, 1982, the
large companies had to turn to other cost-cutting areas. One of those
was the price of logs paid to their logging contractors. Here no legislation
secures the position of a contractor, or the price he receives for his
....While Tree Farm License tenures call
for so much percentage of the cut being performed by contract loggers
– the guidelines of how much is paid for the production has never
been outlined. As I said earlier, I hope it never is.
....The price negotiations between tenure
holder and contractor are generally a once-a-year discussion, based on
the contractor’s costs of operation with allowable profit. Just
how the negotiation proceeds each year is dependent on the trust the two
parties have in each other and the maturity they display in arriving at
a fair and proper price. There are other systems of negotiation, but unless
the trust is there, eventually one party or the other gets what is commonly
known as the dull end of the stick.
....One of the costs the contractor is unable
to do anything about is the negotiated increase in wages as settled by
the International Woodworkers of Americas. This figure is always used
and passed on to the contractor/tenure holder negotiations as a starting
basis for their yearly log price.
....Not so last year. The large com-panies
after the IWA contract was honored on June 15, decided on policies that,
in some cases left the contractor to pay the IWA increase himself out
of his costs. Some tenure holders paid a partial amount and I believe
the odd one nearly covered the entire increase of IWA plus the added
inflation cost of machinery, cost of living, etc.
....I have talked to a good many cont-ractors
and am surprised that so little has been discussed or written openly
about this vital concern of contractors. The subject was felt that serious
by Tom Waterland, Minister of Forests, that he wrote to each of the
leaders of the tenure holding companies and told them that the contracting
section of the industry was taking an inordinate share of the current
difficult times. He went on to outline the obligation that integrated
companies have in making sure the contractor negotiations are kept fair.
A good many, in fact most, contractors would state that this has not
been the case. But not too many are making noises yet. Most contractors
have found temporary ways to keep going and they realize that these
are difficult times for everyone. But the move was a brutal one by some
companies, with no discussion on the matter until after the fact of
the June 15 increase.
....I again say that some companies did
pay some portion of the increase, but generally it is felt the contractors
were left holding the bag.
....Now we are coming to a new set of labor
negotiations in B.C. that will cover the entire forest industry in this
province. This will be a first. In prior years the negotiating was done
in three separate sectors.
....The industry can be sure that con-tractors
will be watching and partici-pating in those negotiations with a very
keen eye. If the large companies leave the contractors out in the cold
again, it is just hard to predict an outcome. Certainly those old scars
will show and even possibly, come back to haunt – in time.
....Big isn’t right anymore and of
course small is not always beautiful. Common sense is both.
....Like the man said: “How do you
Keep out of the bight,