Design a site like this with
Get started

“Digging into History: Suicide by Incentive” by John Mountain, Vol. 1 No 6 (June, 2019)

Suicide by Incentive Program – Incentive programs have been around for a while and can be found in the forest industry as safety incentive programs and production incentive programs. The biggest problem with incentive programs is that they do not work the way people expect them to.

Programs that reward employees with monetary or tangible rewards for an expected level of performance can be challenging. The reason the incentive programs become challenging is they tend to cause under-reporting, particularly when the performance is related to lagging indicators which enlightened managers and employees alike will confirm they aren’t effective no matter the industry.

People tend to focus on the reward rather than the outcome. Sure, there are examples of how incentive programs have helped organizations turn their performance from negative to positive. But this may be the case for the short term because over a period of time incentive programs can become ineffective where they lose their appeal to employees. It becomes too much work to keep up with the required paperwork; it may develop a sense of entitlement when employees come to expect the incentive no matter what the outcomes are, particularly when monetary rewards are involved; they become routine when the program remains the same year after year and people don’t really pay attention to the expectations and the rewards; or they become punitive when group rewards are part of the program which results in employees being punitive to one another when an incident occurs that “messes up” the reward.

In late 1969, MacMillan Bloedel Franklin River Division instituted the incentive program system for logging truck drivers and it was not very well received. I have included it below. IWA Local 1-85 took a big exception to this very unsafe incentive program and in response purchased a full page newspaper ad in the Alberni Valley Times to both expose the ridiculous production increasing scheme and publically embarrass the company.

The newspaper ad ran with a banner across the top of page 24 that read: “MB FRANKLIN RIVER MANAGER INVITES LOGGING TRUCK DRIVERS TO COMMIT SUICIDE”. The union then explained how the incentive program worked so everyone reading the newspaper could see how reckless it was. See for yourself below.


Management of Franklin River Division has decided to experiment in a new concept of incentives for production employees. Log truck drivers were picked to pioneer the idea. The program will start on Monday, November 17, 1969. It will run for an indefinite period and may be cancelled at any time. Anticipated reasons for cancellation could be: 1) Project may become unwieldly and unworkable; 2) Participating employees or other bickering over interpretation of application; or 3) Program proves of no benefit to Division.

Awards will be earned through a point system. Points will be earned based on trips per day and special bonuses.

Rules of Program

  1. Points will be earned daily and recorded by dispatcher.
  2. A loaded truck will be counted as a trip for that day.
  3. No decrease in established load sizes will be tolerated.
  4. There will be no cash awards in lieu of merchandise.
  5. Points may be accumulated and cashed in for items of your choice, example, rifle, outboard motor, air fare to Hawaii, etc. The choice is yours, we establish point values and do the purchasing.
  6. Display board in dispatch office is a sample only of articles available.
  7. Mixed trip values will apply when trips are made from more than one area or block distance.
  8. Minimum points required for any article will be 60 except at program cancellation time when all points over 10 will be honored.
  9. Drivers may not refuse to perform assigned bullcook work. Normal bullcooking averages out among all drivers and must be accepted as it comes along.
  10. Earned points cannot be transferred.
  11. A regular work week is Mon-Fri inclusive. The ONLY exception will be on intervening statutory holiday.

Bonus Points

  1. Any drivers accumulating 20-25 basic points in any regular 5 day week (16-20 in a 4 day week) will have his basic points total increased by 25% for that week.
  2. Any driver accumulating 26-30 basic points in any regular 5 days week (21-25 in a 4 day week) will have his basic point total increased 50% for that week.
  3. Any drivers accumulating 31 or more basic points in any regular 5 day week (26 or more in a 4 day week) will have his basic points total increased by 75% for that week.
  4. One half of one percent per day will be added to the total points earned for the month to any driver who drives without causing an accident to himself, his equipment or the persons or equipment of others for every working day that month.


Safety to men and equipment demands some restraints be placed on those who may tend to become reckless. Any driver who suffers an accident to himself or his truck or causes an accident to an-other employee or other equipment will be penalized by the docking of 25% of his accumulated points but not to exceed 60, i.e. 25% of 60 is maximum 15 points.

This system was introduced one week ago when management called a meeting with the truck drivers to explain the incentive system. Many of the truck drivers indicated that they wanted no part of it, but management insisted that a record of the points of every driver would be kept, regardless. The Union safety committee at Franklin River has spent a lot of time in meetings with management representatives to set up job safety breakdowns for every job in the operation, including logging truck drivers. Mr. William Schmidt, manager of that camp, decided to institute this most dangerous and unsafe incentive production program without even consulting with the Camp Safety Committee or the Local Union office. As a result of this, the Camp Safety Committee have threatened that they will withdraw any joint safety activities with management until this incentive production program is withdrawn.

Logging roads are usually narrow, winding roads with steep grades, providing for single lane traffic except for periodic turn outs where vehicles can meet. Imagine if you will, a large logging truck loaded with anywhere from fifty to seventy tons of logs highballing down one of these steep narrow winding roads in order to accumulate enough points to get a camera, rifle or possibly a paid trip to Hawaii. We say that this is completely ridiculous and that any man who would suggest this is not fit to be a supervisor of an operation. Fortunately, our logging truck drivers have more sense than management and refuse to accept this ridiculous offer. While it’s unknown what became of this MB Franklin River incentive program, I suspect it was likely canceled based on the response of the local union. Yet incentive programs continue to be the next best idea and it’s equally likely the union will continue guard against them. In this case, the incentive program probably didn’t have time to become ineffective or irrelevant.


The IWA Salutes the Past – Challenges the Future

BC Lumberworker Vol. XXXIV, No.1 – January 1971      Editor: Pat Kerr

1941 – At the 1941 convention, five active locals were reported, with eight sub-locals. At this time wartime regulations began to pinch, and the Union protested the pegging of wages, which allowed a bonus for any increase of living costs above five per cent.

Lake Logging and Crofton Export Crews were prevented from taking strike action under wartime regulations, but walked off the job anyway and finally settling for a 50-cent an hour wage increase, union agreement, seniority rights, leave of absence rights and the union shop, the first in the industry.

The July 1941 Wage Conference decided to step up the organizational drive and force union agreements under circumstances which appeared to be favorable. Local 1-118 reported agreements with Horton Cedar Co. and McCarters with a $3.00 a week increase.

1942 – The Fifth Annual District Convention, held January 3-4, 1942, indicated a distinct change in policy. The reasons were apparent. In 1939, the Soviet Union had signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler. In 1941, Hitler invaded the Soviet Union. From that time onward until the close of the war, the Union’s leadership placed the main emphasis on winning the war against Fascism and opening a second front in Europe to relieve the pressure on the Soviet Union. The Union’s slogan was “Production for Victory.”

Wage increases during the war came mainly as a result of demands upon the War Labour Board.

The Youbou camps gained the following scale in 1942: whistle punk, $5.90; chokerman–$5.90; chaser–$6.25; back rigger–$5.90; scaler–$7.00; rigging slinger–$7.00; head rigger–$9.76.

Fraser Mill employees registered a vote of 568 for a working agreement. The TWA won a majority vote as the bargaining agent and a Fraser Mills Local was proposed. The War Labour Board granted an increase base rate for day shift of 65 cents and night shift 70 cents.

An Arbitration Board gave a majority report against a union agreement in MacMillan Plywood Industries Ltd., Bert Gargrave, MLA, dissenting. The Union instituted court proceedings against the Company for refusing to negotiate with the employees.

Youbou Mill won a new scale as follows: boom men–75c; head sawyer–$1.50; setter–85c; edgerman–$1.071/2 ; head trimmer man–98c; re-sawyer–90c; planer feeders–70c; yard pilers–70c; car loaders– 70c; machinists–75c to $1.00; carpenters–85c; millwrights–75c to 85c; construction helpers–75c; crane operators–90c.  In the same year, Local 1-357 was granted a charter.

Next time in Digging Into History, I’ll cover off the 1943 and 1944. Thanks to the BC Lumber worker for these excerpts.

I’m so glad to be playing a part in preserving the history of the IWA. If my story about the MB Franklin River Division Logging Truck Drivers Incentive Program creates any further interest, I urge you to contact the Kaatza Museum staff. Next time in Digging Into History, I’ll take another deep dive into the archives and share some other interesting stories.

Until next time,    John

John Mountain is a retired United Steelworkers Canadian National Office Staff Representative and former IWA Local 1-80 Union Member. He lives in Chemainus and volunteers some of his time at the Kaatza Museum in Lake Cowichan.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: