Helping workers means more than money for severance and tuition


Today is a heartbreaking day for forestry workers in Nova Scotia and a shameful reminder of the disregard Premier Stephen McNeil has for working people.

A skeleton crew will stay at Northern Pulp until April 21 to winterize the facility. The rest of the 230 Unifor members at Northern Pulp walked through the mill’s gates for the last time today, leaving behind long-held careers, the certainty of good family-supporting jobs in their hometown, and the promise of a dignified retirement with a good union pension.

Too many workers today face the pain and struggle of an uncertain future across our country and across our economy, but the ones Unifor represents are most likely to keep me up at night, and why Unifor is so dedicated to a Just transition for workers facing such change.

The union has worked diligently to be a respectful voice in a heated and complex situation while advocating for workers caught in the middle of a blatant historical wrong.

We have never wavered on our agreement that Boat Harbour must close.

Our public criticisms have been around the lack of transparency in the process and the lack of worker involvement leading up to the closure of Boat Harbour, and the impact predicted by our research for the thousands of families whose livelihoods are directly or indirectly tied to this mill.

No government fund thrown around at the last minute, no matter the size, can replace the hard political work of developing a greener economy through strategic long-term planning and, importantly, the involvement of workers affected by any industry transition.

Finding common ground takes work

The December 19 forestry rally was the result of lots of hard work. Business owners, independent contractors, industry associations and others who might not normally be willing to stand with picket signs beside a union in front of the Nova Scotia Legislature, stood there, with Unifor, to demand action on Northern Pulp and respect from their Premier.

Through all the lumps and disagreements on approach between union and business, competitors and strangers, hundreds came together with common messages. It took strong leadership from many parties to make that happen and to put aside differences to stand firmly on our common ground.

This is the kind of leadership we wanted to see from McNeil. This is the leadership Unifor demanded for years.

We didn’t get it.

Instead, Premier McNeil kept consultations to a bare minimum and once again relied on legislation that held no concern for workers in this province. There seems to have been barely a thought about the cross-province web of related businesses and contractors, land and woodlot owners who stand to lose generations of hard work and hard-earned stability.

Forestry workers won’t forget this.

No justice for forestry workers

The celebrations and consolations from people calling this a ‘just transition’ for forestry workers could not be more wrong. There is absolutely nothing ‘just’ for the workers about the closing of Northern Pulp, and no reason to believe the closure presents a real opportunity for workers to transition successfully to a new career.

Unifor has principles for Just Transition, supported by research and frameworks from international worker groups like IndustriAll and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). These principles guide the work our union does with governments and corporations from coast to coast to create new opportunities in a green economy while supporting workers in traditional industries.

Threaded through these principles are demands on government to play a leadership role. And, frankly, Just Transition means more than tossing money at displaced workers for severance and tuition. It means having an economic roadmap; a plan that ensures good jobs are in place, in strategic and sustainable sectors, for workers to transition into.

It also means consulting, directly, with affected workers – ensuring there is a seat at the decision-making and planning table for them. How else can we guide the adjustment process and plans to suit their individual and community needs?

To be clear, a climate justice that forgets workers is not justice, and a reconciliation that divides a community is no reconciliation at all. The McNeil government has failed on both these fronts with Northern Pulp.

This is far from a “just transition.” It’s just a mess.