December 11, 2006

Letter to the editor

To the Editor:

RE: Tolko's Hard Line Kudos to new managing editor Tom Wilson for his spot on Thursday editorial in The Daily Courier.

First, I would like to comment on the reported $1.6-million "company compensation offer." This figure is smoke and mirrors as Tolko are obligated to both cover medical and dental premiums for employees with two or more years service (who are not covered under the "permanent plant closure contract language") for a six-month period, and since the layoff involves more than 100 employees, must pay 12 weeks wages per the Provincial Labour Code.

Let's also not forget that Tolko have continued to ship product out the door and are at worst losing a fraction (or nothing) of this monetary amount. Since this totals $600,000, the real severance offer is for $1 million.

At face value, $1 million may sound good, but if Tolko were to meet the intent of the contractual language for "Permanent Plant Closure" severance, this figure would be in the range of $4.5 million to $6 million, depending on the mix of seniority choosing to take said severance.

From my understanding, Tolko claim they are not obligated to make such payment, based on a 1993 court case. To the best of my knowledge that case held up a rather unscrupulous employer's claim that since they still had one employee (a watchman) employed, it should be construed to be a "partial" closure rather than a "permanent closure."

There has been a history of employers covered by the Southern Interior Master Agreement (which includes some Tolko operations) who have implemented "permanent partial closures" to pay severance to their affected employees with no strings attached.

Tolko's tactic of negotiating concessions from their remaining employees to fund their severance offer that "exceeds the Employment Standards Act" is suspect at best and downright shameful at worst.

As an end result, we will likely see 60-plus year old employees struggling to do the type of work that twenty-something employees had previously done simply because they either cannot afford or do not want to retire and no longer have the seniority to hold the "good job" they may have performed admirably well for many years.

And of course we cannot lose sight of the personal physical wear and tear it took these same employees to acquire the seniority to hold said "good job."

I have heard people say that while Tolko "may be legally right they are morally bankrupt." At this time, I find it difficult to disagree with that assessment. Not to be disparaging to other union-certified employees but in all likelihood if it were not for companies like Tolko, there would likely be no need for unions. That said, Tolko still has time to do the right thing for the employees that have made them, directly or indirectly, millions of dollars in profits and/or softwood penalty returns.

How about it Tolko? If you truly believe that people come first, then do the right thing!

Brad Dunlop
President, North Okanagan Labour Council



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