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B.C. Labour Relations Board Upholds Right to Exert Economic Pressure on Employer through Hot Declaration

Western Forest Products Inc. v United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union, Local 1-1937, 2019 CanLII 71440 (BC LRB).

The Union, USW, Local 1-1937 (“USW”), was engaged in a legal strike against Western Forest Products (“WFP”), a forest company that operates various logging operations and manufacturing plants in British Columbia.

In order to maintain economic pressure on WFP, the USW worked in concert with the BC Federation of Labour, to issue a Hot Declaration urging Federation’s affiliates not to handle coastal lumber, logs, or wood products emanating from struck unionized logging and sawmill operations of WFP. The Union endorsed the Hot Declaration and began tagging logs as “hot”.

The intention of what are generally referred to as hot declarations, hot edicts, or unfair employer declarations is to exercise economic leverage on an employer during a strike or lockout by dissuading other unionized workers from dealing with the products or services from that employer during the term of the labour dispute. This is generally accomplished through clauses in collective agreements that give unionized workers the right to refuse to handle products and engage services originating from employers where a labour stoppage is in progress and a hot declaration has been made.

(at paragraph 64)

A dispute arose, when Jones Marine employees who were members of the Canadian Merchant Service Guild, refused to handle “hot” logs which were owned by WFP and stored in tie-ups in the water outside WFP’s Duke Point Sawmill on Vancouver Island. The employees refused to tow the logs pursuant to a clause in their collective agreement which allowed them to refuse to handle hot goods.

WFP applied under Section 70 of the Labour Relations Code, asking the Board to read down the Hot Declaration to apply only to logs which emanated from behind picket lines after the strike had commenced.
A similar case had not been before the Board in some time and the BC Federation of Labour had not issued a hot declaration in over a decade.
While the Board accepted the Hot Declaration was substantially affecting the Employer’s operations, they refused to restrict the Hot Declaration. They found the balance of interests favoured the Union, largely because the Hot Declaration was exerting economic pressure which was consistent with that permitted under Part V of the Code.

In this case the Union is continuing to apply economic pressure through appealing to the solidarity of other unions and asking them not to handle products which, on the facts of this case, originate from the Employer’s struck operations. I find this is consistent with the purpose and effect of picket lines and this fact does not change based on the temporal factor of when the product left the struck facilities.

(at paragraph 89)

As can be seen in the above quote, the fact the “hot” logs had crossed the picket line was immaterial so long as they remained owned by WFP. Implicit in the Board’s decision was a recognition of the necessity for the reasonable protection and advancement of unions through hot declarations.

The Board re-affirmed unions’ ability to utilize hot declarations as a form of secondary economic pressure on employers through solidarity. This decision also highlights the importance of collective agreement clauses which permit union members to refuse to handle “hot goods”.

Some of the “tagging” of logs was found to be contrary to the picketing provisions in the Code.