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Canadian workers rally for softwood lumber deal

THUNDER BAY, Ontario (From news reports) -- It has been a fight fought before, but workers in the forest industry continue to worry that ongoing disputes with the United States over softwood lumber could cost them their jobs.

"There's a lot of conversation about it," said Earl Harrison, an instrument mechanic at Resolute Forest Products. "Everybody is talking about it. It could mean a lot of jobs. It's big. Canada is big into the pulp and paper and wood industry."

On Monday, Unifor hosted rallies in five cities across Canada, including Thunder Bay, calling on the federal government to reach a deal with the United States on softwood lumber.

More than 200 workers and union members gathered outside of the Resolute Forest Products paper mill in Thunder Bay demanding action.

"We just want a fair deal that allows us equal access without tariffs, which are unduly put on based on the fact that they think the management systems we have in forestry are illegal, which has been proven to be totally false every time we've been in front of international trade," said Scott Doherty, executive assistant to the national president of Unifor.

"There is already an impact on jobs and will continue to grow as tariffs come out and anti-dumping tariffs come out at the end of this week, which will probably put some of the tariffs above 30 per cent, it's going to have a negative impact on jobs for sure," he Doherty continued.

As a result of tariffs on softwood lumber exports, 1,200 jobs have been lost in Quebec. No jobs have been lost in Northern Ontario, but local union leaders think that could quickly change.

"This could hurt 20,000 jobs," said Bob Hoffman, president of Unifor Local 39. "We're all concerned, that's why we are rallying together. We want to make the public and the government aware."

This fight has been fought before, with Canada and the United States fighting cross-border disputes on softwood lumber trade. Trade treaties were struck in 1996 and again in 2006, which helped quell the disputes, but the most recent pact signed in 2006 expired in 2015.

In 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and then U.S. president Barrack Obama, said both nations shared common goals on softwood lumber, but no agreement was struck. With the change in American government, tariffs were once again placed on softwood lumber exports, which industry leaders say continue to hurt Canadian workers and communities.

"The tariffs that Trump and his administration put on softwood lumber exports are unfair, unjust, we are not unfairly subsidized like they said," Hoffman said. "We've been through this many times and always come out winning."

Workers in the forest industry are concerned that the region could experience job losses similar to those seen in Quebec, which would not only hurt the industry but entire communities.

"It's a very strong economic force in our region and we are now seeing second and third generation family members going into this industry and provides a very stable resource for these families," said Bob Lederer, Unifor president for the Resolute Sawmill. "People don't realize just how much of their life is around the forest industry when they think about it."

Doherty and other union leaders are hopeful a deal with be struck. He said more than 650 communities across Canada are directly affected by softwood lumber and failing to reach a deal will have major impacts on jobs and local economies.

"I think they are close to signing a deal, even though they say they are not," Doherty said. "I think there is an opportunity to negotiate a deal that makes sense for everybody and can be done quickly."

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