On September 3rd, 2019, in a well orchestrated announcement, Interfor made a business decision to close its Hammond Cedar facilities. The overall plan includes “repatriation of working capital tied up at Hammond” and “monetization of related real estate,” according to a company statement. It is apparent the plan is to capitalize on the real estate value of the Hammond property and re-invest the capital elsewhere, more probably than not in the US where Interfor owns 14 mills. The employees have been given 12 weeks notice, but noted the mill will only stay open for as long as the current supply of cedar provides for production and shipping of product. The company predicts by October 26th the inventory will have been depleted and shipped.

Although Dunacan Davies, Interfor CEO has explained that the mill is old, was designed for only old growth large diameter logs and isn't able to adapt to the log profile of second growth timber, the truth goes beyond company statements. The truth is the Hammond mill is equipped with 3 separate head rigs including a quad saw that allows the mill to handle log sizes down to even six inches in diameter. The mill is more than equipped to handle second and even third growth timber. The mechanical fitness of the mill can only be blamed on the lack of investment in maintenance. Employees confirm that many maintenance supervisors have quit their jobs at Hammond solely because the company refused to spend the necessary funds to keep the equipment and machinery in a healthy operating state. Many have accused Interfor of running mills into the ground and then throwing them away.

“The Coastal B.C. forest industry has faced significant log supply challenges over the past two decades and manufacturing capacity needs to be brought into line with available log supply,” said Davies. “Cedar producers have also been disproportionately impacted by duties on shipments into the United States as a result of the softwood lumber dispute.” What Mr. Davies doesn't talk about is the over $60,000,000 sitting held in trust with the American government that will likely be released to Interfor in the next while as the softwood lumber dispute nears resolve. The other red herring is the mention of significant log supply challenges. Hammond Cedar manufactures only cedar products. The export of raw cedar logs has been absolutely banned by the government for many, many years. Interfor owns as many as 30 Forest Licenses giving them permission to harvest over 3,34 million cubic meters of Crown Forest. Interfor owns licenses to over 330,000 cubic meters of Crown Forest in the North Vancouver Island Timber Supply Area, a haven of an abundance of cedar logs. With all of this fibre at their disposal Interfor chooses to sell most of it on the open market rather than to supply its own mill’s capacity. They choose to do this because of the profits generated by the “gold rush mentality” of sawmills resulting in overbidding and overpaying for precious fibre. Any log supply shortage at Hammond is clearly designed by the company.

“We recognize the impact this decision will have on our employees who have contributed so much to the business over the years,” Davies said. “We will be working closely with them to mitigate the impacts of the closure and to identify job opportunities at other Interfor mills as well as outside the company.”

Yes, Interfor has identified job opportunities at their other four BC mills, 12 of them in fact. However, so far there has been no appetite to offer any preferred hiring rights to the displace workers of Hammond. Any Hammond employee can apply and will go through the exact same processes as any candidate from the street. That surely is not mitigating the impact of the closure.

Even more frustrating is this action comes at the heels of Interfor’s extreme financial success. In the 2018 Interfor Annual Financial Report it is confirmed that the company realized more profit than ever before in its entire history.

Moving on, Local 2009 has quickly developed resources and allies to provide assistance to its displaced Hammond members.

The Union has already calculated the value of the collective agreement prescribed severance owed to each member. Once the company releases their calculations the Union will consult with each member to confirm the correct amount and dispute any inaccuracies.

The Union has received confirmation from the IWA Pension Plan that they will send personnel to a session at the Union Hall to answer any questions but to also provide immediate assistance in signing up for their pensions. Dates of these sessions will be announced soon.

The Union has already drafted and sent a Notice to each and every USW 2009 site (approximately 80) providing notice of the availability of highly skilled and experienced workers. Potential employers wanting to benefit their workplaces with these seasoned workers are encouraged to contact the Union Hall for more details and employee profiles. A copy of the Notice can be found here.

Already two unions have reached out to Local 2009. The International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) is a union hiring hall that has opportunities to provide many jobs with family supporting wages and benefits to our members. They will be working with the Local and WorkBC to identify potential candidates and provide any necessary training through provincial funding.

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) has also reached out to the Local. They currently provide dispatch services to the film industry, a growing industry in the lower mainland, and can possibly provide job opportunities with family supporting wages and benefits to our members displaced from Hammond.

The Union has arranged sessions regarding Employment Insurance. These sessions will provide answers to any EI type questions but will also have trained volunteers to assist members to immediately submit EI application forms electronically. The Union has calculated the start and end date of all Employment Insurance entitlement for our members who will all have eligibility impacts caused by the contractual severance that will be paid out. Dates of these sessions will be announced soon.

Furthermore the Union is setting up an Employment Action Centre that will assist any member with searching and securing employment that have family supporting wages and benefits attached. Once members complete Needs Assessments with the help of our Action Centre volunteers, the Centre will be proactively contacted employers in the lower mainland to shop or members skills and experience. A copy of the Needs Assessment can be found here .

The USW Local 2009 will not accept the devastating news of the mill closure sitting down. Now is not the time for remorse or blame. Now is the time for action. The Local is springing into action!


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