United Steelworkers Local 1-2017 president said the January curtailment of operations at Tolko Soda Creek Division in Williams Lake is unfortunate.
“Prices are suppressed and there is also a shortage of fibre. Couple that all together and you have a perfect storm,” Brian O’Rourke told the Tribune Friday, Jan. 6. “Hopefully things will turn around.”
A year and a half ago prices lumber prices were higher than had ever been seen before, he added.
”They were making like $1,600 and $1,700 per 1,000 board feet. It is now down below $380 probably.”
On Dec. 28, 2022 Tolko announced an extended downtime effective Jan. 2, 2023 for its Soda Creek and Armstrong Lumber operations, noting the downtime would be evaluated at the end of the month to determine next steps.
The company confirmed the curtailments would affect more than 350 employees across both sites.
Tolko communications advisor Chris Downey said Friday the majority of 180 employees at Soda Creek are impacted as no shifts are running during the downtime.
“This is not an ideal situation — from a people and production perspective, we would always rather be operational,” he wrote in an emailed response. “However, as has been well documented in recent months across the industry, operating conditions have returned to a challenging state in B.C.”
Downey noted the decision in no way reflects upon the commitment of the people who work at the mill, and Tolko will do everything it can to minimize the impact on employees.
Some of the employees at Soda Creek have been kept working in the maintenance, but most of them are applying for employment insurance (EI), O’Rourke said, adding if successful obtaining, employees hope to access top-up funding from Tolko through what is called the Supplemental Unemployment Benefit (SUB) program.
United Steelworkers Local 1-2-17 vice-president Andrew Deley is also in talks to see if some workers can be moved from Soda Creek over to Tolko’s Lakeview division in Williams Lake.
“He will see if they need people there, in trades or production, for the duration of the downtime,” O’Rourke said, noting Soda Creek is a stud mill while Lakeview is a random-length mill.
”I think when Lakeview was shut down a few years ago a number of them went over to Soda Creek. It makes perfectly good sense to utilize employees from another operation that you already have if needed.”
USW Local 1-2017’s collective agreement with the forest industry expires at the end of June 2023 and O’Rourke said hopefully the union will be back in negotiations before then.