Severance pay a key issue at Nanaimo mill after ’08 shutdown

The United Steelworkers local 1-1937 has been fighting a severance pay issue on behalf of 40 former workers at the Nanaimo Western Forest Products mill since 2008.

All three shifts of the planer operation at the sawmill were shut down in December 2008.

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The mill reopened in November 2010 with only the sawmill portion.

The union filed a grievance claiming $1 million as severance pay for affected employees but it was denied in a Feb. 17, 2011, decision by arbitrator David McPhillips.

The loss was “a big blow,” said Brian Butler, vice-president of the union, in earlier news reports.

Another arbitration began in the summer of 2012 to examine whether the company partially restarted the Duke Point and downtown Nanaimo sawmills to avoid paying severance.

The arbitrator suffered a medical issue in January 2014 and hearings have been postponed, according a union notice.

Final hearings on the severance avoidance arbitration are slated for May 26-28.

“I know this has been a very long legal process in getting our case heard by the arbitrator and has been difficult on everyone involved,” said Brian Butler, local president, in the notice.

Meanwhile, a two-year collective agreement between Western Forest Products and 2,400 members of the United Steelworkers expires in June.

Western Forest Products is B.C.’s largest woodland operator and lumber producer, with an annual available harvest of 6.4 million cubic metres. It owns eight sawmills and two remanufacturing plants and ships lumber products to 25 countries.

Calls to Butler were not returned Wednesday.

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