Bruce Stelmacker has had lots of time for gardening this spring.
He’s one of about 125 workers who have been off the job since Christmas because of a dispute between his employer Island Pacific Logging and Western Forest Products.
“We don’t know how long this is going on. We have no idea” lamented Stelmacker when CHEK News visited his Port Alberni home for an interview Sunday.
The dispute is over the rate Island Pacific Logging should be paid by WFP and has left 232,000 hectares of land on the island between Port Alberni, Ucluelet and Lake Cowichan quiet.
“You try to cope with it as best you can. Some of us are able to depend on our personal lines of credit and to get by. We’re selling things. People are selling their cars, their boats. I’m going to sell my truck and my canoe to try to keep some cash coming in” said Stelmacker.
70,000 cubic metres of logs were cut down 18 to 24 months ago and remain on the forest floor.
The United Steelworkers says the wood is devaluing by the day while WFP contends the wood is not losing any value as it sits there, adding it will be removed when the dispute is resolved.
Meanwhile dozens and dozens of workers are at home trying to make ends meet.
Some have found work elsewhere while the majority watch as their EI payments dwindle and medical benefits soon come to an end as well.
“And there’s some pretty sad stories. Fellas that their wives have cancer, very expensive medication, by the end of June their medical will run out and they just don’t know what they’re going to do to be able to pay for that kind of medication” United Steelworkers Union Local 1-85 President Norm MacLeod told CHEK News.
“And welfare has made them sell off any RRSP’s they had. They’re selling off their retirement, any plans for retirement and now they’re going to the soup kitchen to try and find meals” added Stelmacker.
Stelmacker, a landing bucker who is 61 years-old and was supposed to retire in a few years says he is now going to be looking for another job.
“My wife and kids and 8 grandkids to support, got to keep them all busy and help them out when I can but it’s almost to the situation that they’re offering to help me” he said as he was overcome with emotion.