Laura Mauke, administrative assistant with USW Local 1-1937, helps unpack bacon at the union hall Friday for distribution to striking workers. MIKE YOUDS/ Alberni Valley News

Port Alberni rallies for mill workers

Fundraisers helping ease the sting of five months without work

  • Nov. 19, 2019 5:00 p.m.

MIKE YOUDS

SPECIAL TO THE NEWS

The Alberni Valley community is rallying in support of mill workers and loggers who have been affected by a five-month forest sector strike.

Talks between Western Forest Products and United Steelworkers Local 1-1937 broke down again over the weekend, with no future mediation dates scheduled at press time.

Members filed into the United Steelworkers hall Friday morning (Nov. 15), there to pick up strike pay as well as food hampers, the latter a sure sign of the deepening impact of a protracted dispute.

Boxes of bulk food donations were unloaded from Hertel Meats, Double R Meats, No Frills and the Salvation Army, a few of many donors who have stepped up.

Much of the initiative — as with Friday’s show of generosity — has come from the community at large, said Laura Mauke, administrative assistant with Local 1-1937.

“We’ve been doing some different fundraising,” Mauke said. “It’s definitely because of initiatives by people in the community. They’ve been so helpful in working to help people who have been on strike since July.”

The organizer of Friday’s food drive preferred to remain anonymous, Mauke said. About 100 members took advantage of the donations to augment their strike pay, which some said is barely enough to cover essentials.

“The members were very appreciative,” Mauke said. “It was a good turnout.”

There were some leftovers remaining to hand out, she added.

About 240 Port Alberni union members are among 3,000 Western Forest Products employees from six mills have been on strike since July 1. The local strikers include millworkers and some loggers, Mauke said.

READ MORE: Striking Western Forest Products workers on Vancouver Island rally against concessions

Mayors of half a dozen coastal communities, including Port McNeill, Port Hardy, Ladysmith, North Cowichan and Gold River, sent a letter last week appealing to both parties for a resolution to the dispute. Workers and families are suffering to the point where layoff notices are being issued at businesses reliant on Western’s fibre supply, they said.

“As leaders of communities that are severely impacted by the Western Forest Products and United Steelworkers labour dispute, we are compelled to draw your attention to the economic devastation this dispute is causing for the families who live and work in our communities; the people whose support we rely on as the economic backbone of our local economies,” the letter states.

Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions did not sign the letter, saying it was a council decision to leave her name off the letter. “While we respect and appreciate the intent of the mayors represented on the letter, our council felt that it wasn’t the right path,” she wrote in a Facebook post after visiting workers on the picket line at Cameron Shops near Port Alberni.

“As a council, we are aware that our community is suffering from the consequences of this labour dispute. That fact, and the community implications, are not by any means lost on us.”

A burger and beer night fundraiser at The Blue Marlin on Friday, Nov. 22, is next in line on the calendar. The night includes a silent auction and music by Short Term. Other communities have been holding similar fundraisers, said organizer Mary Ann Cheetham.

“I couldn’t stand by and not see something done for Christmas for local loggers,” Cheetham said. “Our town thrives on that industry.”

Some families are already having to make tough choices, Cheetham said. Some are having to leave the picket line in search of jobs elsewhere, she said.

Save-On-Foods is also organizing a food-basket initiative for the striking workers leading up to Christmas, said manager Stephanie Benbow.

“It will be a different Christmas, for sure,” said one worker on the picket line. Throughout the strike, lots of people from the community have been supportive, often dropping off food and refreshments at the picket-line shack located near the foot of Bruce Street.

Tickets for Friday’s event at the Blue Marlin are $20 and available in advance from the Blue Marlin, the USW hall or Cheetham at ma_cheetham@wosscable.com. Silent auction donations can be dropped off in advance at the union hall.

Pat Deakin, the city’s economic development manager, said one in nine workers in Port Alberni is employed directly by the forest industry while many others rely on the business generated.

“We’re making progress on diversification, but it’s tough; it’s still our biggest sector,” Deakin said.

While there is no data available to show the strike’s impact on the local economy, Deakin hears it when he walks into local businesses.

“We are hearing from many owners, employers and proprietors that their revenues are down in their respective businesses,” he said.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Workers have been on the picket line at Western Forest Product’s Alberni Pacific Division (APD) Sawmill since July 1. MIKE YOUDS/Alberni Valley News

Just Posted

Good Food Boxes are packed in Gold River to go out to people of that community. Greenways is working on expanding the program to other communities including Campbell River. Photo supplied by Greenways Land Trust
Good Food Box program coming to Campbell River

Greenways’ program will provide food delivery to six communities in Strathcona area

Island Health chief medical officer Dr. Richard Stanwick receives a first dose of Pfizer vaccine, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
COVID-19: Vancouver Island in a January spike while B.C. cases decrease

Island’s top doc Dr. Stanwick breaks down the Island’s rising numbers

Eden Robinson will be ‘on hand’ for a special online screening of Monkey Beach, based on her 2000 novel, presented by the Museum at Campbell River through the Tidemark Theatre Feb. 4. Photo by Bluetree Photography
Museum at Campbell River to screen Monkey Beach and Q&A with Eden Robinson

Last year’s Haig-Brown Writer-in-Residence’s work has skyrocketed to justifiable fame in the past year

Tahsis mayor Martin Davis stands with an old-growth tree in McKelvie Creek Valley. The village of Tahsis signed a Letter of Understanding with forestry company Western Forest Products to establish McKelvie watershed as a protected area. Photo courtesy, TJ Watt.
Landmark deal expected to protect Tahsis watershed from logging

Tahsis and WFP agree on letter of understanding to preserve McKelvie Creek Valley within TFL 19

Sawyer, a northern saw-whet owl that became synonymous with Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society, passed away peacefully over the weekend. Sawyer would make numerous public appearances with MARS staff in and around the Comox Valley and Campbell River. Photo supplied.
Popular MARS ambassador owl dies

Submitted MARS Wildlife Rescue has lost one of its mightiest ambassadors. Tiny… Continue reading

Dr. Penny Ballem, a former deputy health minister, discusses her role in leading B.C.’s COVID-19 vaccination program, at the B.C. legislature, Jan. 22, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. holds steady with 407 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday

14 deaths, no new outbreaks in the health care system

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Shown is Quality Foods at 319 Island Highway in Parksville. The Island-based grocery chain announced on Jan. 25 it made a $2-per-hour pay premium, implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic, permanent. (Mandy Moraes photo)
COVID-19: Quality Foods makes $2-per-hour employee pay premium permanent

Island-based grocery chain had extended increase twice in 2020

A Cessna 170 airplane similar to the one pictured above is reported to be missing off the waters between Victoria and Washington State. Twitter photo/USCG
Canadian, American rescue crews searching for missing aircraft in waters near Victoria

The search is centered around the waters northeast of Port Angeles

The North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP have arrested a prolific offender who is now facing more than 40 charges. (Black Press file photo)
‘Priority offender’ arrested in Cowichan Valley faces more than 40 charges

Tyler Elrix, 37, had a history of evading police; was ordered not to be in Vancouver Island

Jonathon Muzychka and Dean Reber are wanted on Canada-wide warrants. (Courtesy of Victoria Police Department)
Convicted killer, robber at large after failing to return to facility: Victoria police

Dean Reber, 60, and Jonathon Muzychka, 43, may be together

B.C. Premier John Horgan listens during a postelection news conference in Vancouver on Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
30% of B.C. recovery benefit applications held up in manual review

The province says 150 staff have been reassigned to help with manually reviewing applications

Adam Dergazarian, bottom center, pays his respect for Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, in front of a mural painted by artist Louie Sloe Palsino, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Kobe Bryant’s presence remains strong a year after his death

Tuesday marks the grim anniversary of the crash that took their lives

Surrey RCMP are investigating after a pedestrian was struck and killed at 183 Street and Highway 10 Friday night. (File photo)

Most Read