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

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

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

A rockfall closed Finlayson Arm Road and West Shore Parkway on Friday (March 5) afternoon. (Twitter/BC Transportation)
UPDATED: Malahat reopens following rockfall

Section of Trans-Canada Highway was scheduled for intermittent closures today for rock scaling work

In years past in-person ceremonies have been held for International Women’s Day. This year the observance is going online on Monday, March 8, 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (file photo)
Virtual ceremony for Women’s Day in Cowichan on Monday

Audrey George, manager of the Ts’i’ts’uwatul’ Lelum assisted living facility, will be keynote speaker.

North Cowichan councillor Rob Douglas is advocating for a pilot project that would see the forest industry on Vancouver Island and the coast managed regionally. (File photo)
N. Cowichan councillor continues push for regional management of forestry

North Cowichan councillor wants pilot project established

Cowichan-Malahat-Langford MP Alistair MacGregor. (Photo by Bernard Thibodeau)
NDP tables dental care program

Millions of Canadians don’t visit the dentist every year because they can’t afford to.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C. on the COVID-19 situation. (B.C. government)
Dr. Bonnie Henry predicts a ‘post-pandemic world’ for B.C. this summer

‘Extending this second dose provides very high real-world protection to more people, sooner’

Malawian police guard AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines after the shipment arrived in Lilongwe, Malawi, Friday March 5, 2021. Canada is expecting its first shipments of AstraZeneca vaccine next week. (Associated Press/Thoko Chikondi)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 cases climb to 634 Friday, four more deaths

Currently 255 people in hospital, 66 in intensive care

A crashed helicopter is seen near Mt. Gardner on Bowen Island on Friday March 5, 2021. Two people were taken to hospital in serious but stable condition after the crash. (Irene Paulus/contributed)
2 people in serious condition after helicopter goes down on Bowen Island

Unclear how many passengers aboard and unclear where the helicopter was going

Surrey Pretrial in Newton. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)
B.C. transgender inmate to get human rights hearing after being held in mostly male jail

B.C. Human Rights Tribunal member Amber Prince on March 3 dismissed the pretrial’s application to have Makayla Sandve’s complaint dismissed

Supporters rally outside court as Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church is in court to appeal bail conditions, after he was arrested for holding day services in violation of COVID-19 rules, in Edmonton, Alta., on Thursday March 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
‘Law remains valid:’ Pastor accused of violating health orders to remain in jail

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is representing the pastor

The Netflix logo on an iPhone. B.C. delayed imposing sales tax on digital services and sweetened carbonated beverages as part of its response to COVID-19. Those taxes take effect April 1, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Matt Rourke
B.C. applies 7% sales tax on streaming, vaping, sweet drinks April 1

Measures from 2020 budget were delayed due to COVID-19

Chief Don Tom of the Tsartlip First Nation was outraged after Green MLA Adam Olsen revealed on social media that the community had been experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak – a fact the First Nation had chosen to keep private to avoid racist backlash as experienced by the Cowichan Tribes when an outbreak was declared there in January. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. First Nation ‘outraged’ after Green MLA reveals COVID-19 outbreak

Tsartlip First Nation chief shares concerns about racist backlash, MLA apologizes

A lawyer wears a face mask and gloves to curb the spread of COVID-19 while waiting to enter B.C. Supreme Court, in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, Aug. 28, 2020. British Columbia’s highest court has sided with the land owner in a dispute over public access to public land. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. high court finds in favour of large landowner in fight over access to pair of lakes

The Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club launched legal action after the cattle company blocked road and trail access

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference in Ottawa Friday, March 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau holds firm on premiers’ health-care funding demands, COVID-19 aid comes first

Premiers argue that the current amount doesn’t keep pace with yearly cost increases of about five per cent

Most Read