Chris Hardy of Chemainus will soon be moving on after 35 years at the Chemainus sawmill. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Chris Hardy of Chemainus will soon be moving on after 35 years at the Chemainus sawmill. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Return to work brings some optimism about WFP-employee relations

Long-time Chemainus sawmill employee leaving happier politics appear to be changing for the better

The return to work at Western Forest Products Chemainus sawmill after the seven-and-a-half month strike by United Steelworkers Local 1-1937 has been bittersweet for Chemainus’ Chris Hardy.

“I’m basically finished this month,” said Hardy. “I’m moving on.”

But he’s not immediately retiring after 35 years at the Chemainus sawmill as you might think, but rather accepting a new opportunity in his familiar capacity as a saw filer in a different environment at Paulcan Enterprises on Smiley Road in Chemainus to work for Paul Beltgens.

Hardy has been an outspoken critic of WFP leading up to the long strike, but the end of his tenure there is still bringing mixed emotions. “Best of times, worst of times,” he conceded.

Operations resumed at the Chemainus sawmill Feb. 20 following settlement of the strike.

“We are ramping up and resuming operations across our mills based on a number of factors which vary by operation, including log supply and customer orders we need to fulfill,” noted Babita Khunkhun, a senior director of communications for WFP. “We are operating two shifts at Chemainus which is the same as before the strike began.”

Other operations have not been so fortunate, with Cowichan Bay and Ladysmith employees still uncertain when they’ll return to work.

Hardy has seen some positives in the early days since the return to work which were few and far between previously.

“They seem to be a bit more friendly, let’s put it that way,” he said. “It’s been hell down there for the last three years.

“For Chemainus sawmill, we’ve got a new vice president of manufacturing, we’ve got a new manager at Chemainus sawmill, a new maintenance superintendent and a new maintenance supervisor and these people seem to be speaking our language.”

Hardy is a member of the mill’s plant committee and was recently voted back onto the safety committee. The two committees contain the same seven people, led by plant chairman Randy Robertson.

Hardy said the strike was a necessary consequence of the situation as it sat between the company and employees when the last contract expired in June 2019.

“It’s a sacrifice we had to make in order to maintain our position of not allowing concessions. It took us seven and a half months, but we maintained what we had before the strike.

“If you were looking strictly in money terms, yeah, we lost money. The strike was never about money. It was about corporate greed.”

With a monopoly already, “they tried to squeeze the working man for more,” added Hardy.

“I would never have expected the strength and the will of the people. There was nobody whining about what the union was doing or not doing. We weren’t going to go back on those terms.”

He praised the leadership of the Steelworkers union for their communication and professionalism during the strike.

The local agreement cancelled 30 days before the strike was important to Chemainus employees and they’re pleased it got reinstated.

“Chemainus sawmill was built around a local agreement which is a team system,” Hardy said.

The system allows for job rotation and less chances of muscular/skeletal injuries from repetition.

Word even got back to former manager Phil Dobson from the mill’s heyday and he was pleased to hear about its retention.

“That was everything to Phil Dobson and what Chemainus was all about,” noted Hardy. “It’s everyone working toward a common goal.”

With the environment as it is, “we’re all cautiously optimistic,” he added. “They’re saying the right words.”

But Hardy is not sticking around. “I’m happier leaving the mill believing the politics appear to be changing for the better.”

He’s looking forward to the change after so long, praising Paulcan owner Paul Beltgens for what he’s done with his operation.

Employment

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A weekend of sunny skies may have Victoria breaking temperature records, according to an Environment Canada meteorologist. (Jane Skrypnek/News Staff)
Temperature records eyed for Victoria with sunny weekend forcast

Victoria hit the highest April 14 temperature since 1926 on Wednesday

Fire crews respond to the 3500-block of Blanshard Street in Saanich on April 16. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
Saanich fire crews close road over smoking sidewalk

Police diverting traffic as Vernon Avenue is closed

A man accused of sexual assault has resigned as a coach at Castaway Wanderers Rugby Club and has had his employment suspended at The Local. (Google Streetview/Screenshot)
Rugby coach resigns, is suspended from Victoria restaurant following sexual assault allegations

Social media page creates a safe space for survivors to share their stories

A GoFundMe has been launched in memory of an eight-year-old boy who drowned at a Hotel Zed pool in Victoria on March 24. (Jane Andema/GoFundMe)
GoFundMe started in memory of 8-year-old boy who died at Hotel Zed pool

Child drowned after wandering off to the pool alone

Smoke is visible from the Trans-Canada Highway, April 16 around 12:15 p.m. (Black Press Media photo)
UPDATED: Saanich fire crews truck in water as hog fuel fire smoulders

No injuries reported following fire at greenhouse near Burnside West and Prospect Lake roads

Rainbow trouts thrashing with life as they’re about to be transferred to the largest lake of their lives, even though it’s pretty small. These rainbows have a blue tinge because they matched the blue of their hatchery pen, but soon they’ll take on the green-browns of their new home at Lookout Lake. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
VIDEO: Lookout Lake stocked with hatchery trout to delight of a seniors fishing club

The Cherish Trout Scouts made plans to come back fishing soon

(Sarah Blyth/Screen grab)
VIDEO: Vancouver officer convicted of uttering threats under watchdog review again

Const. Deepak Sood was recorded Sunday saying ‘I’ll smack you’ and ‘go back to selling drugs’ to civilian Sarah Blyth

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate persists, 1,005 new cases Friday

Hospitalization up to 425, six more virus-related deaths

The Nautical Dog Cafe at Skaha marina is getting its patio ready in hopes Mother Nature will provide where provincial restrictions have taken away indoor dining. (Facebook)
‘A lot of instability’: B.C. restaurants in layoff limbo

As COVID-19 cases stay high, restaurants in British Columbia are closed to indoor dining

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Expectations high as Trudeau Liberals get ready to unveil first pandemic budget

The Liberals will look to thread an economic needle with Monday’s budget

John Furlong, Own The Podium board chairman and former CEO of the Vancouver Olympics, addresses a Vancouver Board of Trade luncheon in Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday November 25, 2015.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
John Furlong presents 2030 Winter Games vision to Vancouver Board of Trade

Vancouver and Whistler would remain among host sites because of 2010 sport venues still operational

Photo by Metro Creative Connection
New campgrounds coming to B.C. parks as part of $83M provincial boost

This season alone, 185 campsites are being added to provincial parks, says Minister of Environment and Climate Change

The Nanaimo Clippers’ game against the Alberni Valley Bulldogs slated for Thursday, April 15, has been postponed due to a “potential positive COVID-19 test result,” says the BCHL. (News Bulletin file photo)
Nanaimo Clippers COVID-19 test negative, team can practise and play

Junior A hockey team had suspended activities the day before out of ‘abundance of caution’

Paper Excellence took over Catalyst Paper operations in B.C. in 2018. (Paper Excellence photo)

Most Read