The union is decrying the closing of the Canal Flats sawmill, which will officially close up after nearly 100 years of operation in the Columbia Valley in various forms.
According to Doug Singer, the president of the United Steelworkers Local 1-405, the union members actually ran the last log and boards through in late September and have spent their time since then preparing for the facility for closure.
“This has been devastating for our members, their families, Canal Flats, surrounding communities and the Local Union,” said Singer. “This closure, including the layoffs in May, affect more than 170 employees and related jobs, which is significant.”
Back in May, there are layoffs of roughly 80 employees and in September, the announcement to close the operation was made official by Canfor.
A few members from the Canal Flats operation have transferred to jobs in Elko and Radium, but there are others that have few options, especially those who are within 10 years of retirement, added Singer.
“It’s going to have a very negative impact on people of Canal Flats and indeed, the entire valley,” Singer said. “Many of the members reside in Canal Flats, Kimberley, Cranbrook and Invermere. These are workers with families and mortgages.”
Over the last few months, the union has been meeting with Canfor representatives to resolve issues relating to severance, transfers (especially to Elko and Radium), the impact on employee pensions, benefit coverage, bumping and moving costs.
Singer noted that the union has addressed everything it can to date.
A transition office has been in operation since the news was made public and has been assisted by a large number of outside organizations and government agencies.
The mill was hit hard by the decline in the markets for rig matting and access matting production, according to statements Singer had made when the closure was announced.
However, there were other factors as well, he continued.
“It is very unfortunate that fiber supply and the increased cost of the new market-based stumpage system has resulted in the loss of this many members’ jobs,” Singer said. “We continue in the province of B.C. to allow massive amounts of log exports, although there are mills that do not have enough timber to run operations to full capacity.”