Frustration over job losses in the Alberni Valley has workers urging Western Forest Products to sell their shuttered Somass Mill to a company that will open it back up again. The mill went down on an indefinite curtailment nearly a year ago and workers are hopeless the company will ever reopen it. Skye Ryan has more.
Stress is high in Port Alberni’s Forest Industry where workers fear even more job losses could be on the way in the new year.
“It’s not a great situation for any of the operations right now,” said Glen Cheetham, who used to work at the Somass Mill.
The United Steelworkers are rallying for the reopening of the shuttered Somass Mill or for Western Forest Products to sell it, since an interested buyer has appeared on the scene. The potential options are offering hope to this community.
“There’s interested parties that would like to buy it and then run it,” said United Steelworkers Local 1-1937’s Norm Macleod. “And bring some employment to the valley and Western Forest Products does not seem to give them any answers. It’s just sitting in limbo.”
“It’s a huge impact on the community,” said Cheetham. “You know people aren’t making money they’re not spending money in the community.”
On Thursday, laid-off workers and their union demonstrated in front of the now empty mill.
“It’s ridiculous that they get to shut down these mills and there’s no consequences for them,” President of United Steelworkers Local 1-1937’s Brian Butler told the crowd. “That timber in this valley belongs to everybody here and everybody in this province.”
Cheetham recalls how 1,200 workers made a living at the Somass Mill In the 1980s. When it was shuttered in February 2017, only 60 men were on the payroll. So the union representing laid-off workers says its time for Western Forest Product to commit to this community or go.
“If they don’t want to re-invest here, then let somebody that wants to invest in these operations and run the TFL and put jobs back into this community so the younger generation has a future,” said Cheetham. “Then by all means, I think they should leave.”
The workers union is supported by Port Aberni’s mayor and will be meeting with Western Forest Products next week.