Western Forest Products announces shutdown

  • Wed Oct 1st, 2008 5:00am
  • News

By Heather Ramsay-Impending logging shutdowns will drain up to $600,000 a month in paycheques from the islands economy, according to local contractor Edwards and Associates. And that does not include other company expenditures in local supply stores such as Westpoint Automotive, Rocky’s, Fast Fuels and more, writes company president Stan Schiller in a letter sent to all community councils on the islands. Mr. Schiller’s letter of concern was written six days before Western Forest Products announced a further shut down of its BC operations by Oct. 31. The Sept. 25 announcement comes with no return to work date and will leave island families facing difficult choices. Port Clements-based Edwards and Associates administrator Wally Cheer said employees are already telling him they can’t go without work. People are talking about leaving, said Mr. Cheer, and when they do they don’t return. “These are skilled people; people you don’t replace easily,” he said. Western Forest Products cited weak lumber markets and low US demand for softwood lumber caused by the subprime mortgage crisis as reasons for the continued curtailments. WFP’s logging contractors on the islands have already gone without work throughout July and for two weeks in September, said Mr. Cheer and some of those laid off in September will not be going back to work at all. He estimates that including road building contractors, the WFP shutdown will affect 150 workers. “It’s going to be a huge problem for the company and more importantly for the people who work for us,” he said. Mr. Cheer says employees on the islands do not have the option of going to the next town for fill-in jobs. “Guys in Campbell River can drive to Port McNeill to find a job,” he says. “But there is no other employer here.” Darrel Wong of the United Steelworkers has written a letter to Premier Gordon Campbell requesting immediate action to assist workers, communities and the forest industry. He said logging contractors across the province are on the verge of bankruptcy and Edwards and Associates is under court-ordered protection already. “This is the worst year I’ve ever seen for our members in 25 years,” he said. “And there doesn’t appear to be any shining light out there.” Short term fixes and round table discussions are not enough, he says, and the Softwood Lumber Agreement is also to blame for the current predicament in the coastal logging industry. Mr. Wong said the agreement has wiped out manufacturing jobs in BC. Mr. Cheer said his company and the community must be as proactive as possible on this issue as well. “There’s a component of society saying it’s good that no trees are being cut, but the fact of the matter is the Charlottes are a resource-based economy and until we diversify things, the cuts will impact us severely,” he said.