As more than a dozen people held a rally near the Long Hoh mill in Errington in protest of raw logs being exported overseas, and local mill workers losing shifts and jobs, a single log truck carried a full load down the road to the mill.
The rally-goers, some of them workers at the mill, waved and cheered. But that single truck would have been 10 not long ago, said one rally-goer. Now the mill has gone from 60 employees down to 38 following a spring layoff, said Long Hoh plant chairman and log bucker Sean Demeria. And he only expects it to get worse.
“In the next couple of weeks you’ll probably see the whole place go down, and everybody will probably be laid off if we don’t get any wood,” he said. “I think it’s pretty well inevitable now.”
Nonetheless, he and fellow mill workers, alongside union representatives from Public and Private Workers of Canada (which represents the Long Ho mill and Ladysmith mill) and Unifor (who represent pulp and paper mills) gathered on Clark Road on Wednesday, Sept. 13 to protest raw log exports.
The rally was held to try and get the attention of the new B.C. government, and hopefully keep the industry from collapsing, said Unifor national representative Jim Dixon.
“We believe the industry is at a critical stage now,” he said.
Dixon said the current problems are due to Liberal government reductions in regulations that allowed more companies to sell more raw wood overseas, and not have to support local industry.
The idea was that the industry would prosper under self-regulation, he said. But after more than a decade, Dixon said the experiment has failed, as more lumber is sold to higher bidders overseas, and local mills layoff workers.
“You’ve got an independent sawmill that can’t get wood at the same time as we’re exporting six million cubic metres off the coast,” said Arnold Bercov, president of PPWC.
“They continue to load these boats with logs, send them to China, send them to Korea, send them all over, and our own people can’t get wood,” he said. “(Local mill workers) should be first in line, not last.”
“These guys (mill workers) are zipping down because they are victims of a system that doesn’t work for the independent mills. So what I’m hoping is we’ve got a new government, they’ve made some commitments around moving up the value chain, and trying to end raw log exports, and I’m not saying it’s going to happen tomorrow, but we have to re-build this system,” said Bercov.
As it stands, people like Demeria are looking at the start of a new school year without a job.
“It’s a hard time of year,” he said. “I’ve got my kids going back in school, and now I don’t have employment, so it’s a hard pill to swallow.
“I was raised in the forest industry. My father worked at the Port Alberni pulp mill for 30 something years and he brought up five children. Why can’t I do that too?”
According to a news release by Ancient Forest Alliance (a group that also took part in the rally), about 130 workers could lose their jobs or have their shifts reduced at the Long Hoh mill and a Ladysmith sawmill which also is dealing with a log shortage.
Asked about the overseas shipments of wood, Demeria said, “They are just shipping our future jobs away, too. Not just my job, my children’s jobs. If we don’t do something now, there will be nothing left.”