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Slocan mill employees agree to settlement
Unionized employees at Springer Creek Forest Products in Slocan have overwhelmingly accepted a reduced settlement package.
Fifty-nine of the 75 or so employees who remain on the seniority list voted 97 per cent in favour this month of an offer that will see them receive three quarters of what they might otherwise have been entitled to, in lieu of severance.
United Steelworkers Local 1-405 president Doug Singer said in a phone interview the deal is conditional on Springer Creek selling its timber holdings to Interfor, a transaction expected to close in March.
However, that doesn’t mean the sawmill, which has been idle since mid-2011, will never reopen.
“Springer said their intention is to run the mill,” Singer says. “It’s just a matter of when. But in fairness to employees, they had this deal with Interfor that is beneficial to everyone.”
The company approached the union in November and after some negotiation offered 75 per cent, Singer said. Had Springer Creek announced a permanent closure, it would have been required to pay the full amount.
However, accepting the buyout now removes some uncertainty for the workforce. “Most of the guys felt that way. We said you’re better off taking something you know for sure.”
Singer says during the lengthy shutdown, some employees found work in other mills, some went away to northern camps, and others stuck close to home and lived off savings.
An added incentive to the buyout was the fact some workers were on the verge of losing seniority retention rights — they receive one month for each year of service, to a maximum of 24 months. Much of the workforce has been around since the 1970s, Singer said.
The arrangement might also result in eight to ten jobs for Springer Creek employees at Interfor’s Castlegar operation, he added, although he hasn’t spoken directly with Interfor.
Springer Creek and Interfor management both said they couldn't comment in detail on the deal until it’s finalized, although Springer Creek manager Ralph Tomlin said it involves all of their wood under two timber licenses.
At a January 3 membership meeting, some Springer Creek employees raised concerns about rates and length of service at the time of layoff, but the settlement, to be paid as a lump sum, was approved with little dissent.
“I’m content because if we asked for more, I don’t think we would have got it,” said Jesse Anderson, who was atop Springer Creek’s seniority list. He started with Pacific Logging in 1968, and worked mostly as a barker, but latterly as a watchman. “Seventy five per cent is quite a bit,” he said.
Over the last 40 years, the mill has gone through several name and ownership changes — from Triangle Pacific to Slocan Forest Products to Canfor to Springer Creek — and at one time employed well over 100 people.
It has operated sporadically over the last decade, with several lengthy shutdowns due to poor markets. The present closure was blamed on lumber prices, exchange rates, and transportation costs, as well as diminishing demand for waste wood.