Kamloops pulp mill union watching closely as other mills close | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Kamloops pulp mill union watching closely as other mills close

FILE PHOTO - The Kamloops Kruger pulp mill, formerly owned by Domtar, is holding strong as the B.C. logging industry struggles.

The union behind workers at the Kamloops pulp mill is bracing for turbulent times as B.C. sawmills that feed it close or curtail operations.

"We're doing better than most, but still definitely worried," Unifor local 10-B vice president Wesley Mitchell said. "We're quite familiar with all these people losing their jobs. It's terrible."

Kruger Inc., which owns the Kamloops pulp mill, and its union are trying to find other ways to get its wood material as mills in places like Quesnel and Prince George slowdown operations.

"We're thinking outside the box for exactly those reasons," Mitchell said. "I think our company has been proactive, I think our union is proactive in trying to find solutions... it's just a matter of whether the government enacts any of these or forgets about the forest workers."

READ MORE: 'The situation is serious': Mill closures put pressure on Kamloops' Kruger mill

Some of those alternatives could include salvaging slash piles or timber still useable for pulp from burned areas.

Inventory levels are down to a 15-day buffer at the Kamloops mill, which is a growing domino-effect from mill closures in other places. Normally, it keeps raw material inventory at about 60 days and, Mitchell said, 30 days is the bare minimum.

The forestry sector may ebb and flow, but Mitchell said the Kamloops mill's long, established history in the city gives him confidence it will stay with government support.

"It is a turbulent industry, but it's turbulent as a result of what the government of the day is choosing to do," he said. "We've been making pulp in Kamloops since 1965. That's not very turbulent."

The mill employs more than 300 people with diverse trades training. The ripple effects in the event of a closure would be felt throughout the city, Mitchell said.

The same is true in other cities, especially smaller communities like Quesnel where the West Fraser Mills operation will curtail for a month in April.

READ MORE: Mill closures threaten to punch holes in the fabric of rural B.C. towns

"You hear about the odd sawmill closing, but this is becoming an epidemic. Towns are going to be affected," he said. "People I think forget that it's not just the direct spin-offs, it's the restaurants, it's the corner store in the neighbourhood where you live that are affected. If you lose those 300-400 good paying jobs out of each community, a lot of those things will cease to exist."

The company behind the Kamloops mill told iNFOnews.ca it's looking for long-term solutions in order to keep it running, but didn't specify what those options are.

Mitchell suggested the company will be looking "outside the box" as other B.C. mills shut down, but the provincial government needs to come to the table to find long-term solutions.

The province has lost more than 40,000 forestry jobs since the early 1990s, facing recent mounting pressures such as wildfires, fluctuating lumber prices and Canada's softwood lumber dispute with the U.S.

Kruger has no plans to close or curtail operations at its Kamloops mill. Instead, the company told iNFOnews.ca it's confident the mill will overcome the current industry shake up.

READ MORE: Good and bad news for Tolko workers in Armstrong

— With files from the Canadian Press.

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