Vancouver Island’s only feed mill says Seaspan strike puts farms at peril

Vancouver Island's only feed mill says Seaspan strike puts farms at peril
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Vancouver Island’s last commercial feed mill says a labour dispute at Seaspan is jeopardizing local farms.

A strike at Seaspan started seven weeks ago and has stopped feed from being barged to the Island and trucked to Top Shelf Feeds near Duncan.

“We can get the grain. We just can’t source the trucks right now, so every day we run out of something,” said Dennis Comeau, general manager of Top Shelf Feeds.

“We push ourselves into a temporary shutdown, but we’re afraid that the day’s coming when we’re just not going to have the supplies to meet the demands here on Vancouver Island.”

The tug boat operators at Seaspan went on strike and the shipyards workers, who are represented by another union, have not crossed the picket line, shutting down both of its north Vancouver shipyards.

It’s meant extra costs for Top Shelf to get products to Vancouver Island and has the company operating at a loss. It’s calling on the government for assistance.

“We need some intervention from the provincial and the federal side to either cover some of the costs for the end users. Our customers and our food producers on the Island can’t afford any more increases, and our freight is coming in double right now,” said Comeau.

Island Station Creamery in the Cowichan Valley makes cheese and they missed some feed shipments because of the strike.

“We just had to go without grain for a couple of deliveries which was a little tough cause we had to scramble to find enough feed for everyone,” said Henry Rekers, a Creamery co-owner.

They’re concerned and hope the strike will end soon, and Seaspan says it made a generous offer last week, but the union has not taken it to their members.

“We have asked for the minister of labour under the powers that they have under the labour code to put that to a vote. We would like the membership to be able to vote on the offer we put forward because we think it addresses what they said were their issues,” said Ali Hounsell, Seaspan’s director of communications.

Seaspan says the labour ministry has given the union two weeks to respond to the company’s request. The proposed contract includes a pay raise, a signing bonus and the most contentious issue, a pager system, which was taken off the table.

In a statement, Canada’s Labour Ministry says it’s “…closely monitoring negotiations between Seaspan and the Canadian Merchant Service Guild, and are aware of the impacts of this labour dispute. We urge the parties to reach an agreement at the table with the assistance of Federal mediators.”

Top Shelf says the Seaspan impasse can’t carry on for much longer because neither the feed mill nor its customers can take on any more cost.

Kendall HansonKendall Hanson

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