When individuals in any industry are off the job for an extended period of time, it hurts. Not only the workers directly involved, but those in support industries whose livelihood and lifestyle depend on that partnership.
When Western Forest Products and the United Steelworkers Local 1-1937 (USW) reached an agreement earlier this month to get employees back to work after more than seven months, people in Campbell River breathed a sigh of relief, says Kelsi Baine, executive director and a counsellor with Upper Island Counselling.
“Most people are aware of the impact the strike has had on union members and their families, but there’s also contractors and so many small businesses that depend on forestry work,” she says.
Uncertainty creates stressors
Disruptions to one’s life and routine, especially when there’s no end in sight, take a toll, Baine says. “Not only has this had a severe financial impact, there’s also the psychological and emotional impacts that come with financial strain. There’s worry and uncertainty and a lack of stability – not knowing if everything is going to be OK. It has an enormous ripple effect.”
Need for supports recognized long ago
Western Forest Products and the United Steelworkers Union were integral in identifying a need for support. They collaborated on a program in the mid-1980s that supported the emotional and mental health of employees and their families.
“Joint partnership was the language used at the time. It was a coming together of the union and the company for the greater good of supporting health and wellness,” Baine says. “It was a remarkable model for the 1980s and is still going strong today. That collaboration created us and Western Forest Products has been our longest member company. We have supported them through ups and downs and trying times, and supported union members for 33 years.”
Jim Work and Russ Pearce are two leaders who spearheaded the creation of the community-based Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP). Both men started with MacMillan Bloedel Ltd (then Cascadia, Weyerhauser and eventually Western Forest Products) in the early ‘70s and went on to help build the EFAP, which opened in 1987. They also volunteered as worksite EFAP reps and served on the Board of Directors. While Jim is retired, Russ still serves today as the Board Treasurer.
The healing takes time
After a strike of this length, the emotional and financial healing could go on for some time, even after things seem back to normal.
“People may still be looking for counselling services for some time, so it’s a good reminder that they know the programs designed with them in mind are still available,” Baine says. “It’s all about recovery and repair and we hope the community comes back healthier and stronger after an experience like this that has shaken people in so many ways.”