Forestry layoffs caused by Steelworkers strike

Howe Sound Pulp and Paper Ltd. laid off more than 100 workers yesterday from its newsprint operation due to shortages of raw materials caused by striking loggers and sawmill workers on the B.C. coast. The company shut down newsprint production at its mill in Port Mellon, B.C., last week and temporarily laid off between 120 and 150 workers after a week of maintenance work on the paper machine.

Howe Sound spokesman Al Strang said the company had enough raw material to continue running its pulp mill late into September, but after that, more difficult decisions would have to be made. "We're evaluating different possibilities," Mr. Strang said.

Pulp and paper mills depend on wood chips generated by sawmill operations for a supply of wood fibre. However, B.C.'s coastal forestry industry is undergoing a strike by thousands of unionized workers who are negotiating labour agreements.

Graham Kissack of Catalyst Paper Corp., one of the biggest paper companies on the coast, said his company was beginning to feel the squeeze on its fibre supplies.

Mr. Kissack said Catalyst had set out a plan before the strike to manage its stockpile of raw material, but if the strike drags into September, things become a little more unclear.

"We will start to see shortages of fibre and wood waste which we use as fuel to generate steam and electricity in the coming weeks," he said.

Catalyst said it would curtail most of its production at the Campbell River Elk Falls mill effective Aug. 31 due to limited fibre supply. About 600 Catalyst employees will be affected.

Howe Sound Pulp and Paper, a joint venture of Canfor Corp. and Japan's Oji Paper Co. Ltd., employs 600 people and produces 400,000 tonnes a year of bleached kraft pulp and 220,000 tonnes a year of newsprint.

About 7,000 coastal forestry workers employed by Island Timberlands LP, International Forest Products Ltd. and Forest Industrial Relations member operations walked off the job on July 21. Key issues are work scheduling, severance and protection from contracting out. No talks have been scheduled.

United Steelworkers union members plan to start a campaign at Home Depot Inc. stores across Canada today, asking customers to not buy lumber manufactured by companies where workers are striking.

Union spokesman Steve Hunt said settlement talks were closest with Island Timberlands before breaking off.

"If we can get the Island people back going again, it is possible we could get a settlement, and that may be the catalyst for everybody else," he said.

However, Ron Shewchuk, spokesman for Forest Industrial Relations, repeated a call for the union to put Forest Industrial's last offer to a vote by its membership. "We feel that our offer is worthy of serious consideration," he said.

On Thursday, the B.C. Labour Relations Board rejected TimberWest Forest Corp.'s application to force a vote on an offer to the union that would raise wages by 11 per cent over five years and provide a $100,000 signing bonus for each of its 29 engineers and foresters. However, the union said the company has filed another application for a vote.


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