MEADOW LAKE, Saskatchewan — The United Steelworkers (USW) Local 1-184 and NorSask Forest Products have concluded a groundbreaking, five-year collective bargaining agreement for members at the sawmill’s operation, 256 kilometres northwest of Prince Albert, Sask.
The new agreement contains provisions for substantial wage increases, a signing bonus and substantial improvements in benefits, contracting-out language, grievance language and the membership becoming part of the Steelworker Humanity Fund as well as recognizing National Indigenous Peoples Day (June 21) as a new statutory holiday.
However, the most impactful language negotiated between the two parties is the groundbreaking recognition and reconciliation language. It reads:
“NorSask Forest Products LP and the United Steelworkers union enter into this Agreement recognizing and acknowledging that we operate on the traditional lands of the Cree and Assiniboine signatories of Treaty 6 dedicated to ensuring that the spirit of Treaty 6 is honoured and respected.
The parties to this Agreement understand that a primary objective of MLTC ownership is to support economic and social development in Indigenous communities. The parties to this Agreement appreciate that the Company is a primary employer in our region, and must work proactively towards removing barriers that hinder appropriate participation of Indigenous peoples in the NorSask workforce.”
The two parties agreed to add the language to the collective agreement early on in the bargaining process. The three-day bargaining session was led by Jeff Bromley, USW Wood Council Chair, along with Paul Hallen, USW Local 1-184 President and Chris Thiemann, USW Local 1-184 Vice-President, and a three-person bargaining committee from the sawmill operation including Chandler Mysko, Terry Murray and Don Schoen. Both Chandler and Terry are Metis Steelworkers and are part of the 70% of the workforce at NorSask that are Indigenous (Metis and First Nations).
“The recently ratified collective agreement with USW conveys Meadow Lake Tribal Council (MLTC) shareholders’ commitment to NorSask employees. The spirit and intent of this agreement is to create positive long term social, cultural and economic benefits for the region and its people, employees and shareholders while ensuring the ongoing competitiveness and sustainability of NorSask Forest Products LP,” said Kelly Lehoux, General Manager of NorSask Forest Products.
“When the language was proposed, it was an easy decision to make and our committee was entirely in favour of the proposal,” said Bromley. “It certainly put a positive and respectful tone in our bargaining process given the tragic news the week prior of the children buried at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. There is so much devastating news about the colonial history and the devastating impact on First Nations in our country, agreeing to this was a step in the right direction.”
The new five-year agreement was ratified on June 9, 2021, in Meadow Lake by an overwhelming majority of USW members at the operation.
“Our union has a long and proud history of representing the workers at NorSask Forest Products at Meadow Lake and we have maintained excellent industrial relations with NorSask Forest Products,” said Paul Hallen, USW Local 1-184 President. “People are a key resource and we are proud of the contributions our members have made to the sawmill’s success. We look forward to the continued positive relationship and the ongoing success of NorSask Forest Products.”
“This recognition and acknowledgement language are small steps in trying to heal and move forward. We cannot change the past, but initiatives such as this one in Meadow Lake or the groundbreaking agreement between USW Local 1-1937 and the Huu-ay-aht First Nation on Vancouver Island, B.C., can go a long way in shaping a more positive future,” added Bromley.
NorSask Forest Products is owned by the MLTC and operates in Meadow Lake, Sask., employing 85 USW members. Not only is it the largest First Nations-owned sawmill in Canada, profits generated support economic development, social programs, employment and infrastructure in the nine First Nations communities represented by the MLTC.
The USW represents over 14,000 members in the forestry sector in Canada.