Today marked the last shift for some 65 workers and nine staff members at the CanFor owned Canal Flats saw mill.
CanFor announced the closure on September 9 in Canal Flats, stating that recent downturns in the oil and gas and lumber markets that the mill served, combined with a lack of economically available fibre for the mill, had brought operating losses the company could no longer sustain.
At the beginning of 2015, the mill had employed approximately 125 people, but 81 of those were laid off in May when the mill went to one shift in May.
This closure does have an affect on Kimberley and Cranbrook, said Mayor Don McCormick.
“Of the people that worked there, only 44 per cent actually lived in Canal Flats,” McCormick told the Bulletin at the time of the layoffs. “It very quietly employed people from Kimberley, about 16 per cent of the workforce.”
A further 30 per cent lived in Cranbrook, McCormick said.
“It highlights that this is a regional economy and any economic development needs a regional perspective.”
“This has been devastating for our members, their families, Canal Flats, surrounding communities and the Local Union” said Doug Singer, President of United Steelworkers Local 1-405 in Cranbrook. He added: “This closure including the layoffs in May affect more than 170 employees and related jobs, which is very significant.”
There have been a few members who have transferred to jobs at Elko or Radium, leaving a large number of members with very few options, especially those who are within ten years of retirement.
“It’s going to have a very negative impact on people of Canal Flats and indeed, the entire valley. Many of the members reside in Canal Flats, Kimberley, Cranbrook and Invermere. These are workers with families and mortgages.”
Singer says that the mill actually ran the last log through the sawmill on September 28 and the last board through the planer on September 30. Since that time, members have been cleaning up and preparing the mill for the closure.
“Over the last 2 months the United Steelworkers Local 1-405 has been meeting with Canfor to deal with many issues that needed to be resolved regarding severance, transfers (especially to Elko & Radium), the impact on the employee’s pension, benefit coverage, bumping and moving costs. We have addressed everything we can to date. A Transition Office has been very active at the Canal flats operation which was staffed by one of our union reps to assist employees with any information and assistance they required, who has done a great job with a difficult situation.The Transition office has been very active and helpful to our members, along with the assistance of a large number of outside organizations and government agencies which has been very helpful and appreciated.”
The Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP) has been aware of the situation and counselors have been available to assist union members.
“It is very unfortunate that fiber supply and the increased cost of the new market based stumpage system has resulted in the loss of this many members jobs”, said Singer. “We continue in the province of BC to allow massive amounts of log exports, although there are mills that do not have enough timber to run the operations to full capacity,” he added.