Tolko Mill employees clock out for the last time

By Vanessa Ybarra
December 16, 2016 - 5:21pm

MERRITT, B.C. — There are just nine days before Christmas, and for Tolko employees in Merritt the holidays will not be as festive as usual.

Today (Dec. 16) marks the last day the mill is in operation.

Earlier this year the mill announced it would be closing down due to a lumber shortage, and today more than 200 employees said goodbye for the last time.

To say today was a sad day for Tolko employees would be an understatement.

"Most of the people are going to be looking for work now, so yeah, it's tough," said Mike Lester, Supervisor at Merritt's Tolko Mill.

Friday was the last day of work for Tolko Mill's 203 employees.

In September, the Merritt mill announced it was closing its doors due to a lumber shortage.

"These are good people, this is not an easy decision for anyone," said Troy Connolly, Tolko's Senior General Manager of Lumber. "At the end of the day, it comes down to the fact of what we talked about when we announced the closure, we simply don't have enough wood for all the sawmills." 

Patrick Cullen worked at the Tolko Mill for 44 years.

Now retired, he says it's the everyday routine he'll miss the most.

"Getting up, going to work, having that paycheque every two weeks, but I'm ok. I'll make it," said Cullen. 

For others, the question of 'what's next' hangs over them.

According to Merritt Mayor Neil Menard, most of the mill's near-retirees have opted for early retirement.

A select few of the mills younger workers have been hired at one of Tolko's other Interior sites. 

"The last number I heard was 15," said Menard. "They've kept a few jobs open for the employees if they would like to transfer."

Forestry is the city of Merritt's largest industry.  

Menard says the closing of Tolko's close to 100-years-old-site brings a huge economic loss for the community. 

"When you lose 203 people you lose a very large portion of the consumers in the community, grocery stores, gas stations all of that," said Menard. "That's a big loss to the community. It's a very sad day."

Menard says a transition team was brought in to help employees find other jobs following the September announcement.

Part of the transition included hosting a career fair in the fall with another one taking place in January. 

While some employees are bitter towards Tolko for their handling of the decision, others say they were doing the best they could under the circumstances. 

"It's a difficult thing to do," said Lester. "From what I've seen, management at Tolko is just as upset as everyone else. For the most part, people are just doing their best to get through it."

"It was a nice place to work," said Cullen "All the people were nice, we were treated good. I have no complaints."

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