Maple Ridge’s Hammond Cedar employees will be included in recently announced provincial funding for displaced forestry workers.
Victoria pledged $69 million to fund a new series of measures aimed at supporting B.C. forest workers impacted by mill closures and shift reductions in several B.C. communities.The Interior forest industry has been reducing production in an effort to adjust to the end of the mountain pine beetle harvest and the devastating 2017 and 2018 fire seasons.
International Forest Products Interfor announced it would be closing the Hammond mill earlier this month, displacing approximately 200 workers, with 130 being union members.
United Steelworkers Local 2009 president Al Bieksa said the union has lobbied to have the Maple Ridge employees able to access a $12 million fund for workers to access skills training, and for employer and community grants for training.
The union is still conducting a needs assessment for the Hammond workers, and Bieksa said the union will go back to government for funding for other needs such as early retirement bridging.
The union is in the process of negotiating a closure agreement with Interfor, and he expected it to be completed by the end of the week.
“They (the talks) have been tough, but Interfor has been fair in the negotiations,” he said.
Some of the issues have been extending benefits and preferential hiring for the Hammond workers.
Interfor has some opportunities at other locations.
Bieksa is optimistic the displaced employees will be able to find work, and has heard from other unions with employment opportunities in the forest sector, road construction and the movie industry.
He said there will be a staff employment action centre at the union office in Langley to help the members find work. Some already have new jobs.
“We hope that by the end of this year the majority of these people will have taken a job opportunity,” he said, with the exceptions being those who want to retrain or retire.
He said none of the Hammond workers have been laid off, but by Oct. 25 or 26 the company estimates the wood at the site will have been milled and shipped.
The workers will continue on the company payroll until Nov. 26. They will then receive 10 days of severance pay for every year of work at the mill.
While he is confident the company and union will ensure financial stability for the Hammond workers and their families, Bieksa said the workers are unhappy. They believe the mill is a viable operation, and is only being closed because of the value of the site as real estate, he said.