Coulson Forest Products Ltd. v United Steelworkers, Local 1-1937, 2021 CanLII 41402 (BC LA); leave for reconsideration denied in 2021 BCLRB 139 (CanLII).
Two workers, who had worked in the employer’s logging operation as machine operators for decades, were laid off and lost their seniority rights after the employer disposed of its Toquart Bay operation on Vancouver Island.
They sought severance pay for permanent closure of a logging camp under the collective agreement.
At issue was whether the employer’s logging operation constituted a logging camp for the purpose of severance pay, whether the grievor’s had been employed in a logging camp, and whether they were terminated as a result of a permanent closure of the logging camp.
Arbitrator Mike Fleming, considered the impugned language using the principles of collective agreement interpretation and determined the parties intended “logging camp” to mean “base of operation” where logging activities were performed.
He suggested certain indicia to be considered may include:
“[C]ontinuing existence for a period of time, the presence of logging equipment and related work processes and a discernible area of operation where loggers work regularly, bearing in mind logging activities move from time to time. Those features would be reflected in a range of indicia including the presence of accommodations, logging equipment, a shop, a log sort, the existence of forms of union representation under the Collective Agreement and other features such as a seniority list.”
The operation, did not have to be remote or include accommodation:
“On balance, applying the relevant interpretative principles and bearing in mind the importance and purpose of severance pay I find the parties did not likely intend the term “logging camp” in Article XXVII to be restricted to “traditional” or “remote” camps i.e. those with bunkhouses or other similar Employer provided accommodation. I find it more likely the parties intended “logging camp” to mean “base of operation” which may or may not include accommodation.”
Further, the work performed did not have to be limited to a specific forest license area.
This interpretation was consistent with the purpose of severance pay, “to compensate employees for the loss of seniority rights which are significant rights not to be arbitrarily denied”.
This decision confirms that “logging camp” should not be narrowly defined for the purposes of severance pay.
The facts supported the union’s position, the two grievors had been employed in the employer’s logging camp and were terminated as a result of its permanent closure, notwithstanding that they had continued to work sporadically mostly to facilitate the closure.
Accordingly they were entitled to severance pay.