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“Part 2: Union Certification Challenged from Within” by John Mountain, Digging into History 2.12 (December 2020)

Union Certification Challenged From Within Revisited – For this month’s deep dig, I’m again delving into that situation that happened sixty years ago when some IWA members – powerhouse workers – thought they would explore a relationship with another union – the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE)

In my November 2020 deep dig, I noted that the powerhouse crew at BCFP Youbou later chose to leave the IUOE Local 882 and join the IWA Local 1-80 but didn’t provide any details of that turbulent time. So in order to set the record straight, what follows is a thorough account of what happened with the IUOE powerhouse crew at Youbou in late 1978 through to early 1979.

Youbou Sawmill

To be clear, I’m relying on a letter over the signature of IWA President Jack Munro that was sent to then President of the Canadian  Labour Congress (CLC) Dennis McDermott in March 1979. The letter was a follow-up letter to an IWA request to the CLC for a grace period to sort out the messy business at the powerhouse in Youbou. The CLC President was being petitioned by the IWA to disregard the complaint from the IUOE as the CLC President is a guarantor of the CLC constitution and that, as such, one of his responsibilities which Jack Munro reasoned was to protect affiliates from undue complaints. He continued by saying that the CLC President stands in the democratically-elected position of ultimate mediator or ultimate Impartial Umpire. And with that responsibility, he is therefore endowed with discretion which the IWA submits the law requires and further contends it must be exercised equitably, reasonably, and in good faith.

In order to ensure that the CLC President “got the whole picture”, Jack Munro thoroughly explained the situation at Youbou. He writes that the present complaint by the IUOE arises out of an application for certification filed with the British Columbia Labour Relations Board on January 16, 1979 by Local 1-80 of the IWA with respect to the bargaining unit of engineers, firemen, and oilers operating the steam plant at Youbou. The employees involved were at the time covered by a June 24, 1949 certification to Local 882 of the IUOE – also describing a bargaining unit of engineers, firemen, and oilers operating the steam plant at Youbou.

Jack Munro Letter to CLC

The IWA believed that a narration of the history behind their application for certification would be of assistance and believed the history would support their contention that the raiding matter ought not to be forwarded to the Impartial Umpire for hearing and that they ought not to be compelled to defend themselves at such a hearing.

British Columbia Forest Products (BCFP) Youbou consisted of a sawmill, planermill and veneer peeling plant and, historically, the operation began around 1900 under Yount and Boulton whose names when combined is You-Bou or Youbou. The Youbou operation became Industrial Timber Mills and was sold in July 1946 when it became BCFP Youbou Division. Local 1-80 of the IWA held the certification describing the industrial bargaining unit at BCFP Youbou from 1944 until it was permanently closed in 2001.

In 1948 however, the IUOE sought to carve out a craft union unit from the existing IWA industrial union unit. They engaged in a raid and on July 24, 1949 were successful in obtaining a certification describing the steam plant unit referred to above.

 Although the certification referred to employees “operating the steam plant”, the ex-IWA members, now IUOE members, were directed by the company to maintain and repair equipment throughout the sawmill and planermill. IWA members would install equipment, and IUOE members would maintain it. But this was not a satisfactory situation and in 1955, the IWA attempted to reorganize its lost members but without success.

The division of work however began to cause some serious problems in 1966, when a tripartite agreement was arrived at between the forest industry, the IWA and the provincial government by which millwrighting became a recognized trade in accordance to a recognized training program.

Pursuant to the new training program, millwrighting trade practice would be required on hydraulic and pneumatic equipment. Yet, the only area of the operation where such equipment existed and such work was available to IWA tradesmen was in the veneer peeling plant. Therefore a rotation system was established to train IWA tradesmen in the veneer peeling plant who would otherwise ordinarily work only in the sawmill and planermill. This uncommon practice in itself created discontent which was further aggravated by the fact that once trained, IWA tradesmen were denied work in the planermill and sawmill for which they were competent and qualified.

Youbou Sawmill 1970

Therefore in 1974, the IWA applied to the BC Labour Relations Board to determine whether or not the IUOE members who were performing maintenance work throughout the sawmill and planermill ought to be included in the IWA certification or in the IUOE certification. At issue was the particular wording of the IUOE certification which expressly and exclusively contemplated specifically the steam plant. The Labour Relations Board held that in view of the timeframe that had elapsed, they would not change the status quo.

In the opinion of the IWA however, the Labour Relations Board really failed to recognize that the situation was as a result of: (1) a raid by the IUOE wherein a craft unit was carved out of an industrial unit, and (2) the creation by the employer, of artificial boundaries of work jurisdiction where boundaries extended beyond the wording in the IUOE certification. In addition, the union felt the Labour Relations Board failed to recognize and appreciate the real underlying tensions existing at the workplace.

Work assignment problems came to a head again in 1977 during a time when the company was introducing some four million dollars’ worth of technological change by installing a new debarker and new package press. The IUOE claimed this work, although IWA millwrights were competent and available to do this work. In frustration, the IWA members walked out of the operation and the company sought a cease and desist order from the BC Labour Relations Board. The Board however declined to issue such the order and as a compromise agreed that the contractor installing the new equipment would continue to maintain it until the Board had an opportunity to issue its decision in a similar jurisdictional case, namely the case Rayonier Canada (B.C.) Ltd. and IUOE Local 882 and IWA Local 1- 217. The Board hoped that the Rayonier decision would establish guidelines for the parties at Youbou to resolve their differences without intervention.

Waterfront View of Youbou Sawmill

On June 14, 1977 the Board issued its first Rayonier award which was promptly appealed by the IUOE. The Board issued a reaffirming decision in October 1977 which resulted in IUOE at Rayonier returning to the clearly demarcated jurisdiction as was set out in their original certification – they were confined to working just in the steam plant.

As a result of the Rayonier case, management at BCFP Youbou in June of 1978 brought the issues to a new crisis by calling together a meeting of representatives of the company, the IUOE, and the IWA. Management advised that: (1) IUOE members would be restricted to the steam plant, (2) that maintenance of equipment outside of the steam plant was to be done by IWA tradesmen, and (3) that some IUOE members would be transferred into the IWA bargaining unit and onto the IWA seniority list with full seniority.

Roger Stanyer, who was President of IWA Local 1-80 at the time, and President of IUOE Local 882 Bill Kattey, both strongly objected. It was agreed however that the two unions would meet and discuss the situation in an attempt to arrive at some other resolution to the problem. Failing a successful resolution, the Company said they would implement the plan decreed. Meetings were held between the two unions and crew meetings were called to keep the membership informed. However, no compromise was forthcoming and the company was so notified.

Regardless of this failure however, the parties agreed to make one final effort to work out a solution prior to the imposition of the company’s ultimatum. It was resolved that a tripartite committee be established with personnel representing the employer, the IUOE and the IWA. These representatives were to come from the operation and the union representatives from outside of sawmill operation form either of the two unions were not allowed to get involved. Meetings were held, and at a meeting of October 25, 1978 there was a breakthrough. The IUOE representatives advised the Parties that they wished to join the IWA as a whole group – the entire crew of the steam plant.

Fletcher Challenge Youbou Sawmill

Going back to the raiding charge and basing their view on the events, the IWA maintained that no raid – as contemplated by CLC Constitution Article 4, Section 3 – took place. The union felt that the purpose of the constitutional provision was to prevent the interference by one affiliate in the established collective bargaining relationship of another affiliate. Its purpose was not to impose upon employees representation by a trade union against their own choosing. Therefore the IWA respectfully submitted that if the employees in a bargaining unit represented by one union wish to be represented by a second union, and that second union has in no way set out to undermine the first union, then that second union has not contravened Article 4, Section 3.

The IWA further argued they felt the key factor the Canadian Labour Congress ought to consider in such cases, was the freedom of choice. Fundamental to the their position was the fact that the IWA did not set out to annex the IUOE bargaining unit. Rather the IUOE bargaining unit set out to be annexed by the IWA. Indeed this was exhibited by one hundred percent IUOE bargaining unit support and the IWA felt that it was a response to the guidelines set down by the BC Labour Relations Board in the Rayonier decision; the desire of the IUOE bargaining unit to be maintained as an integral whole rather than being divided according to the company ultimatum of June 1978, and finally, the aggressive position of management in exercising its management rights.

In conclusion, the IWA said that it was one thing for a union to set out to undermine another and steal its support; while it’s another thing where the employees on their own to no longer wish the be represented by the existing union and then go out to obtain representation elsewhere. The IWA believed the employees were entitled to their freedom of choice with respect to their desired representation, and that neither the Canadian Labour Congress nor the union being solicited ought to impose a form of representation contrary to their wishes.

I’m so glad to be playing a part in preserving the history of the IWA. If you’re interested in my discoveries, I urge you to contact staff at the Kaatza Museum for more information.

Reference – Excerpts from the IWA President Jack Munro March 27, 1979 letter to CLC President Dennis McDermott were used in this deep dig.

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.

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