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Western Forest Products strike ‘killing our communities’: Port McNeill Mayor

The Mayor of Port McNeill says the ongoing forestry workers strike is crippling the region.

Gaby Wickstrom posted an open letter on Facebook, addressed to chief negotiators Brian Butler (USW 1-1937) and Roger MacDougall (Western Forest Products).

The labour dispute between Western Forest Products Inc. and the United Steelworkers union started July 1st.

Wickstrom said this strike cannot go any longer. 

“It’s killing our communities and heartbreaking to see what it’s doing to people,” Wickstrom said.

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“We are struggling and reaching the point where it is going to be very difficult to come back from. We are resilient and look after each other, but we can only take so much before we break.

Conflict is never solved when two people are not speaking. It’s not solved with finger-pointing and strong language. It’s only solved when people make a decision in their hearts and minds to do the hard work. It’s about communication and the ability for each person to ask themselves what’s my part in the lack thereof.”

Wickstrom told Vista Radio that the strike has had an impact on the economy, not only in Port McNeill but island-wide.

“Many communities are suffering, they’re laying off employees, they’re receiving food deliveries. We have one today that’s come to Port McNeill, Port Hardy, and also out to the Holberg area,” she said. 

She added that in a small community, the ripple effect of the strike is “pretty swift.”

“It doesn’t have to be a forestry related company or one that services a forest company for it to be affected,” Wickstrom said.

“The stores are fairly empty, the drug store has reported a 30 percent decrease in business, IGA is probably the meeting place and that’s because people still have to eat. So other stores are laying people off. I know many, many businesses that have laid people off and that’s up and down the island, that is not just in Port McNeill.”

In her letter, Wickstrom pointed out that if you look at it from a take-home wage perspective, not gross income, so far each individual employee has lost somewhere between $25,000 and $35,000 of pay. 

She added that independent contractors are on the edge of losing their equipment and livelihoods and that people have had vehicles repossessed and many more have voluntarily returned them so as not to affect their credit rating. 

Some are only making the interest payments on their mortgages but will have to catch up on their regular payments at some point, she said, adding that just before the holiday season, all of them have been hit with a B.C. medical bill in the hundreds of dollars. 

“The small business community makes enough to feed their families, pay their employees and keep their businesses alive. How long will they be able to last?” Wickstrom said.

“How long will they be able to employ people that don’t make nearly as much money as the forestry sector? Will they even be able to move to find work elsewhere when they lose everything?

“I am imploring you to get back to the table. I am begging you, for the sake of every person that lives in a coastal community, to get back into a room together and work out a deal. Talk until you can’t talk anymore. Leave the room, respect the 24-hour cooling off period, and then get back into the room and start talking again. Don’t give up until you have reached a deal. Our very survival requires you to do so.”

Wickstrom said it’s “not about whether or not there will be a Christmas. It’s whether or not we will have any pieces left over to pick up when the dust finally settles. 

“Do the right thing. Support us by getting back to the table and reaching a deal so your workers can get back to supporting their families.” 

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