By Alex Rinfret-The Steelworkers are appealing to Council of the Haida Nation president Guujaaw to remove the blockades which have prevented more than 100 union members from working since March 22.
Local 2171 president Darrel Wong said he sent a letter to Guujaaw shortly after the checkpoints went up, and had a brief meeting with him on the islands earlier this month.
The Steelworkers do share many concerns with the Haida Nation about provincial government policies and Weyerhaeuser itself, Mr. Wong told the Observer Friday, but stopping people from working is not the way to solve the issue.
“This is a difficult thing for families and at the end of the day, I don’t think it’s fair,” Mr. Wong said, adding that Guujaaw “understands our concerns. His comment back is a fair number of people on the islands don’t have work.”
Mr. Wong said the Steelworkers, like the CHN, are opposed to most of the provincial government’s changes to forest policy, like the removal of cut control and the privatization of private lands within Tree Farm Licences.
He said the union also agrees that the provincial government clearly has a responsibility to meet with First Nations and to the proper process of consultation, as outlined in court decisions.
On the Weyerhaeuser front, the huge American-based corporation is “a lousy corporate citizen” which has caused never-ending problems for the Steelworkers since it bought MacMillan Bloedel in 1999, Mr. Wong said.
The Steelworkers share many islanders’ concerns about increasing mechanization in the forest industry and helicopter logging methods being used when not necessary, he said.
“On all of those issues we’ve got similar positions,” he said.
Mr. Wong met with many of the workers affected by the blockade in Port Clements March 31. He said reactions to the work stoppage ranged, but there was a general consensus that the Haida Nation has a legitimate claim to title.
“There were people that were furious, there were people onside and supporting the Haida, and there were people who were afraid,” he said.
Many of the union members have had little work recently and were looking forward to going back when the checkpoints went up, he said. Workers are eligible to receive employment insurance, he said, but there’s a dramatic difference between EI and a regular paycheque.
“There’s a huge amount of frustration,” he said. “There’s a lot of issues here that all need to be addressed.”
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