The union that represents Somass Sawmill is not buying Western Forest Product’s excuse that lack of fibre supply is the reason for the Port Alberni mill’s indefinite closure.
The United Steelworkers Local 1-1937, which represents forest workers in the Alberni Valley, said in a press release sent out Tuesday, Aug. 1 that the union “has serious concerns” over the continued reduction in milling capacity on the BC coast while log exports continue to rise.
More than 100 mills have closed since 2001 and the latest closure shows the continued effects of poor forest policy of the previous BC Liberal government, according to Port Alberni vice president Norm MacLeod.
“WFP has the fibre to fuel the mill, but has made choices that have moved their supply of cedar logs to other mills within the company, all the while WFP’s log exports continue to skyrocket,” he went on. “It is unacceptable.”
Glen Cheetham, the local union business agent for the Somass operation, noted, “The Somass Mill has continued to make profits for the company over the years even though it has worked a reduced number of shifts in recent years. There is no reason the profit earned in recent years would not have continued if the supply of red cedar continued to be processed at Somass.”
The local union is holding out hope that WFP will change its mind and invest in the Somass Mill—reopening it for business.
“There was very little consultation with the local union prior to this announcement, which is unfortunate,” said local president Brian Butler. “Our concern is initially with our affected members but significantly also for the future generations of mill workers and for the Alberni Valley. Western Forest Products can and should do more for the workers and community than to just shut down the mill.”
The local union intends to address several matters related to the Somass announcement with both WFP as well as the newly elected provincial government to determine what actions it may take to restart the mill, as well as improve the future of the forest industry in the Alberni Valley.
Western Forest Products also owns and operates a second mill in Port Alberni, the Alberni Pacific Division (APD) Sawmill.
Amy Spencer, director of communications with WFP, said that APD will not be affected by this closure, as the mill processes different logs.