The union representing workers at Alberni Pacific Division Sawmill says an upcoming curtailment is nothing more than a poor bargaining tactic.
Western Forest Products, which owns and operates APD Sawmill, confirmed on Friday the mill will close for at least a month starting March 18.
“We are temporarily suspending operations for a four-week period starting on March 18,” WFP director of communications Babita Khunkhun confirmed late Friday, March 8.
“This decision is directly related to market conditions. Our APD facility mainly produces products for the Japanese market, so it’s related to market demand for that product.”
Khunkhun said employees at APD have been advised of the shutdown. When asked if there is a solid date for when the mill would restart, she said the shutdown is for four weeks. “We have advised our employees that it will be for a four-week period. If it changes we will advise them at that time.”
Brian Butler, president of United Steel Workers’ Local 1-1937, said the union’s view of the shutdown is “considerably different” than the company’s. This is a contract year for the coastal forest industry, and the union recently agreed to start collective bargaining on April 15.
“Everytime collective bargaining starts the company makes some sort of curtailment announcement,” Butler said. “We think it’s a tactic they use going into bargaining, so members take a less positive view of the industry and temper their demands going into bargaining.”
He said the company established a pattern last summer when the BC Interior forest industry’s contract ended on July 1, and their union locals began bargaining with Western. “A lot of their bargaining time has seen the same thing, a series of curtailments designed to dampen the workers’ asks in bargaining.”
Butler said a recent lumber trade mission to Korea, Japan and China claimed the markets are “looking very positive.”
Western Forest Products owns another mill in Port Alberni, the Somass Sawmill. The company announced on July 27, 2017 that they were closing the mill indefinitely. Work at the mill had been curtailed since the previous February; it has never reopened, although the kilns are still in use.
Western made a $70 million profit in 2018, according to the company’s year-end financial statements.