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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Bargaining structure in a decade of environmental change : the case of the B.C. forest products industry Frost, Ann C.


The forest products industry is a major part of British Columbia's economy, employing directly or indirectly about twenty percent of the province's workforce; and accounting for a significant percentage of the province's exports and government revenues. Historically, the industry has been characterized by highly centralized bargaining structures and formal pattern bargaining between the two regions, the Interior and the Coast, and between the two main industry sectors, pulp and paper and solid wood. Recent environmental changes however, have put considerable pressure on the current system. Because of these changes employers now desire less centralized structures and more local control over terms of the collective agreement. Pressures for decentralization have resulted from a combination of world wide trends and industry specific changes. The globalization of markets, increased volatility of currency exchange rates, and the increasing rate of technological change are examples of the former. Industry specific changes include the diversification of products and markets between regions and firms, and two major labour disputes in the 1980s. These changes however, have had little effect upon bargaining in the forest products industry. Some changes have occurred, but to date they have not been significant. Employers in the province's pulp and paper sector deaccredited their employer bargaining association in March 1985. Despite this change, bargaining in the last two rounds has been done jointly, as it has been done for the past four decades. The second change noted is the severing of ties between the Pulp Bureau and FIR, the Coastal solid wood employer association. Previously overseen by a common Chairman, these two bodies are now run independently to encourage the separation of bargaining outcomes in the two sectors. The final change of note is the role reversal between the pulp unions and the IWA. For many years it was the IWA who negotiated what would become the industry wide settlement. In the last two rounds of negotiations, however, the pulp unions have settled first. Despite what appear to be significant environmental changes, there has been relatively little change in bargaining in this industry. Clearly there are forces in the industry's industrial relations system that are preserving the status quo. Several organizational forces and one environmental force are identified which are preventing change in industry bargaining structures. Organizational forces include third party pressures (specifically threats of government intervention), industry tradition and past practice, and the unions' ability to resist unilateral changes in bargaining. The environmental force preventing employers from forcing change in industry bargaining structure is the economic health of product markets in the two sectors. Not until the pressures for change are great enough to overcome these inertial organizational forces will significant change occur in the bargaining structure and patterns of the B.C. forest products industry.

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