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Western Forest Products shuts Port Alberni sawmill for six months

CANADA (From news reports) -- Western Forest Products has temporarily shut down APD Sawmill in Port Alberni for the next six months, putting more than 100 forestry employees out of work.

Workers were told early last week that the mill would be closing, or curtailed, until the spring due to a lack of wood fibre. A curtailment is different from a permanent closure: it can either mean cutting back on production or closing a mill indefinitely.

Western Forest Products said in a statement that the company "will continue to monitor markets and log availability to determine when we can resume operations."

Fifteen employees are still operating the planer until Nov. 17, then they will be looking for employment too, said Glen Cheetham, fourth vice-president for United Steelworkers Union Local 1-1937.

So far, Port Alberni's mill is the only one of the six Western owns on Vancouver Island to be under curtailment. They are not the only mill on the Island to be under temporary shut-down: Paper Excellence announced in early October that paper operations at its Catalyst Crofton mill will be curtailed as of December 2022. Pulp operations will continue.

Cheetham said the Steelworkers union is helping employees find work elsewhere. Because the company didn't give employees written notice of the curtailment, there are no formal meetings between the union and company set up to help employees find work, he explained. The union has signed an agreement with Western until the end of the year for maintenance workers to allow them to work in other mills. Cheetham said the union is hoping to sign a similar agreement for production workers.

"There's been a few people picked up by San Group. There's other workers getting work at other Western mills down Island. That doesn't take care of all of the workers."

Cheetham said workers expect brief curtailments during the slow season, usually in January and February, but they weren't expecting to be out of work for six months. "That was a bit of a shock."

Cheetham said it's difficult to hear that the company must curtail a sawmill due to lack of product, especially when ships full of raw logs leave Port Alberni's wharf almost weekly. "We seem to have log ships parked next to APD every week. They have enough logs coming off private lands yet they can't seem to find enough wood on public land or TFLs to supply the mills in this province," he said.

"So it gets a little on the frustrating side."

While the union is busy trying to ensure workers stay employed, Cheetham said the ultimate wish would be to see Western make a financial commitment to keep APD Sawmill open.

"What we want to see is some investment in that mill so we don't see these curtailments."

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