Mill to shut down again

Tolko will shutdown Armstrong operations again, this time Aug. 17 to Sept. 2, in reaction to depressed market conditions. The Tolko lumber mill in Kelowna is currently closed for six weeks.

It's become a summer tradition at Tolko lumber mills.

Shutdowns that last longer and are more frequent have become the norm as the forestry industry continues to struggle.

On Thursday, the Vernon-based company announced its Armstrong lumber, Armstrong plywood and White Valley (Lumby) veneer operations, employing a total of 550, will be shutdown for 15 days from Saturday to Sept. 2.

The Heffley Creek plywood and veneer plant near Kamloops will be closed Aug. 24-Sept. 2.

This latest Tolko shutdown in Armstrong follows two weeks of downtime May 27-June 7 that turned into a four-week closure when June 10-21 was tacked on.

"The high cost of logs and weak markets are impacting our operating footprint in British Columbia," said solid wood vice-president Troy Connolly.

"Although we prefer to keep these locations in constant operation, we must manage the business responsibly and ensure we are sustainable for the future."

Workers were told about the additional shutdown Thursday and managers were available to help them with any questions they had.

Most of the questions were likely about how this affects their pay.

Earlier in the season, employees had the chance to use up paid holiday time to coincide with the shutdowns.

However, with four weeks of closure already, it's unlikely workers have any paid holiday time left.

Otherwise, employees have to wait a week without pay before becoming eligible for employment insurance, which only pays 55% of average insurable weekly earnings to a maximum of $562 a week.

A third, more complicated, option is a combination of any remaining paid holiday time and EI.

There's a lobby underway to convince the federal government to do away with the one-week wait for employment insurance for forestry workers. However, no such exemption has been put in place.

"This downtime will affect over 700 of our employees in these operations. We do not make these decisions without a lot of consideration," said Connolly.

"We have great people working at these locations, and this is in no way a reflection on them or their commitment. However, we continue to experience challenging industry conditions in British Columbia."

Meantime, the 140 workers at Tolko Kelowna are off the job with the mill in the midst of a six-week closure Aug. 6 to Sept. 15.

Tolko Kelowna's second shift of 90 workers was permanently axed on July 12.

Tolko also announced it would be closing its mill in Quesnel.

Tolko is not alone as dire conditions plague the forestry industry province-wide.

Canfor, Conifex, Louisiana-Pacific, Norbord and Aspen Planers are among the other forestry companies closing mills, making shift reductions or laying off workers.

During the shutdowns, Tolko will continue to sell as much lumber, plywood, veneer, oriented strand board, laminated strand lumber and wood chips as possible from existing stock.

"We will continue to support our customers and do our best to minimize any impacts," said marketing and sales vice-president Pino Pucci.

"Our customers are understanding of current market conditions and aware of our ongoing commitment to serve them."