Williams Lake mill fire prompts union to seek help from BC government

By Greg Fry
November 7, 2017 - 10:43am

KAMLOOPS — The United Steelworkers, the union representing around 170 employees at Tolko Industries Lakeview mill in Williams Lake, will be seeking help from the provincial government following last week's mill fire.

The fire started late last week and proved stubborn over the weekend as flare-ups continued into early Monday morning. Given the location of the fire, between the ceiling and the roof, Tolko said it was difficult to get at from the outside and unsafe to fight from the inside.

Yesterday, structural engineers were on site determining the integrity of the building. Since then, the planer has resumed operations with three shifts though the sawmill isn't operating yet.

Paul French, Local 1-2017 first vice-president with the United Steelworkers, says while the company is running a heavy crew on the planer and keeping "most of the guys working and on the payroll for the time being," he notes he's not sure what will happen next and worries the fire will affect a large number of workers in the long run.

"Tolko is stepping up and doing what's good for the employees and we're trying to work with them and we're going to push government to step in and do what it can."

What does French think that may look like?

"You know, guys can't just sit on EI (Employment Insurance). We've got to bring in the Job Commissioner and start looking if there's retraining available in the short term," he says.

"We don't know if this is going to be three weeks or three months. We don't know what the outcome is. So, right now we're trying to line things up to make sure if this isn't good news, we're prepared."

It's been a challenging year in Williams Lake as the mill fire comes on the heels of this summer's devastating wildfires. French says the fires forced the closure of mills in the Cariboo town for around three weeks, though he says things could have been "a lot worse."

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