Close to 100 workers have been laid off at Western Forest Products Alberni Pacific Division mill, said United Steelworkers Local-185 financial secretary Glen Cheetham.
“It’s close to 100 people laid off just at the mill,” said Cheetham.
“It’s gone down to one line which is basically half of the crew.”
However, Western Forest Products director of communications Amy Spencer said that only 40 people have been laid off.
“We’ve temporarily laid off about 40 people,” said Spencer.
Cheetham said that the layoffs were due to a log shortage.
“They’re not logging right now because there’s some disputes going on in the bush,” he said.
“It’s not a labour dispute but it’s a rate dispute between the licence holder (Western Forest Products) and the prime contractor (Island Pacific Logging) on what the rates should be for logging. The crew was just caught in the middle.”
Workers out in the bush haven’t worked since before Christmas 2015, he added.
“This is definitely more than normal,” Cheetham said of the layoffs.
“They’re laid off until the disputes are resolved so they’re just on EI.”
Spencer said that layoffs were standard in the Alberni Valley during the winter.
“It’s not unusual for this time of year. There’s a lack of suitable fibre to supply the mill.”
The shortage, Spencer said, was only partially caused by the rate dispute.
“This has always been a problem in Port Alberni… [WFP] imports 70 per cent of the logs to the mill.”
It could be a couple of months until the layoffs, which began on Monday, are over.
“The curtailment started today and could very well go till the end of March or the end of April.”
Cheetham said that other mills in the area haven’t had any layoffs yet, though WFP’s Somass Division is also looking at a log shortage.
“I talked to the chairman down there today (Feb. 16) at Somass and he said that logs are tight so there may be layoffs in the future but my understanding right now is that they’re still running the way they have been.”
Cheetham said that no layoffs had been reported at any other mills in the region.