Workers at Western Forest Products’ Cowichan Bay sawmill believe that an upcoming two-week shutdown is a bargaining tactic by the forest company.
The company is claiming that, due to the ongoing weak demand for its products from the facility, it will close the Cowichan Bay mill from March 25 to April 8, putting approximately 120 people temporarily out of work.
WFP director of communications Babita Khunkhun said the decision is directly related to poor international market conditions and the persistently high cost of the logs processed at the mill.
“Prices for lumber reached their peak in June, 2018, and have come down substantially since then,” she said.
“We hope the shutdown is just for two weeks, but we will keep workers working as much as we can during this period, and some could fill positions at our other facilities.”
But Brian Butler, president of United Steel Workers’ Local 1-1937, which represents workers at the mill, said this is a contract year for the coastal forest industry, and he believes the shut down is meant to dampen efforts by the workers to get the best deal they can in the collective bargaining process.
“We saw the same tactics used last summer when the B.C. Interior forest industry’s contract ended on July 1,” Butler said.
“There was also a series of work curtailments there during the bargaining to try to keep the workers from asking for too much. We recently agreed to start collective bargaining with WFP on April 15 for our next contract.”
Butler said that, by all accounts, markets are currently good for the company, and WFP’s own year-end and quarterly reports indicate that markets are solid.
WFP made a $70 million profit in 2018, according to the company’s year-end financial statements.
WFP announced last week that it was also curtailing work at its APD sawmill in Port Alberni for a month, starting on March 18, for the same reasons.
WFP also has sawmills in Chemainus and Ladysmith, but Khunkhun said there are no plans for work curtailments in those facilities at this time.
Khunkhun also denied allegations by Butler that cedar that was supposed to go to the mill in Cowichan Bay to be processed has been diverted to one of two mills WFP bought in Washington last year. “That wouldn’t be the case,” she said.