Sunday, December 06, 2009


Last weekend, I wrote a blog entry that I titled LIFE. Because I used a certain company name in the initial draft, it apparently got picked up by interested persons in Vancouver (or so I have been indirectly told). These words that I put out into the world, made quite a splash in our little community ~ which at the moment is under a lot of stress.

Not that these things ever come at a good time but this week has been even busier than most. Tuesday was a 12 hour work day (not complaining, we had Christmas Family Fun Night which was worth every minute). On top of this, my sister has been bursting at the baby seams for several days and on Wednesday, our family welcomed a baby girl! Last night we enjoyed a festive Christmas party and some time with friends. Between all of this, reaction has been filtering.

But this morning I woke with blogging on my mind and feeling unresolved about this post. My little blog here has been from its inception, how I make sense of my world. Somedays this world is big ~ it reaches to the Roman Empire and back again. Other days, it hits much closer to home and reflects an everyday ordinary life. If you read my blog with any regularity, you already know that I love the written word and I find deep satisfaction in putting words together.

I am told that the biggest objection to this post is in regard to remarks about education. It has hit a collective nerve. I am very aware that there are many well educated, well trained people who work in a mill. Electricians, mechanics and mill-wrights to name a few (but not limited to).

I am a teacher ~ education has influenced the entire course of my life. Beyond a shadow of a doubt I believe in education, in becoming educated (both formally and informally) about anything and everything that affects who we are and what we do. In democratic societies, education is the primary way we go about improving our lot in life. Although having an education does not makes you more or less intelligent than another ~ that factor is mostly influenced by your genetics ~ it does change your opportunities in the world.

Other people's words and opinions are important, even when they don't align with your personal values. We are blessed to live in a democratic society, where we have such freedom to express the many shades of grey through which we each see the world. Although this post was NEVER intended for public consumption, I do not wish to see it kept from the public. It is natural for readers to bring their own experience to whatever they read (or write) ~ influenced by their joys and their fears. These particular words were written out of frustration for the way I believe our lives are all about to change ~ and believe me, I hope that I am completely off the mark in how I think the next year is going to affect us all.

Yesterday, some of my staffer friends received their layoff notices. And so it has begun. My heart is wounded. And not just for staff, but for all families that will be affected. There are moments when my sadness over all of this is so profound that I ache in my belly. But I am by nature optimistic, and it is through the rough times that we grow. We shall all survive regardless of which side of this proverbial fence we find ourselves on. Perhaps we will all come to more clearly understand the things in life that truly matter.


I came into work today, with a plan of getting a few things taken care of before the week is underway. But instead, I find myself incredibly frustrated and unable to shake it. Verging on the downright pissed off.


As much as I’d like to blame it on the time of year and lack of day-light, it is more than just that. In the last couple of weeks, recession has full out hit our little town. The local mill is shutting down. Indefinitely. And it is so unnecessary.


Here, because we are so far north and live in a boreal forest, logging happens during the winter months. Wood is accessible by ice-road only and from November until March (about 14 weeks in total) enough wood is cut and hauled to keep this mill (the largest in Alberta) going for the entire year. Market conditions for lumber are dismal. In fact, lumber prices have fallen this year to a 50 year low, and that’s not adjusting numbers for 50 years of inflation! So basically, holy shit for anyone in this industry.


The silver lining was that the company was willing to pump $35 million into the local economy, despite the markets. But, they needed a new contract negotiated and signed by the local union prior to December 1. You’ve probably guessed it… that didn’t happen. In fact, the union rejected the offer by 91%.


For those of you reading who happen to be staunch union supporters, I know what you’re thinking. The company is taking this opportunity of poor market conditions to stick it to the little man! It might even cross your mind “good for them, solidarity!” And that is exactly what the union was thinking too, at the beginning anyway.


The quick and dirty of the negotiations is that the company declared they needed a 12% wage reduction with a clause that wages would increase based on improving market conditions. They were not willing to negotiate on this point, it was put forth as a final offer ~ take it or leave it. I get that nobody likes to take a wage decrease. And, who doesn’t hate an ultimatum. I also get solidarity forever, I am after all a union member myself, and I do believe there are things worth standing up for, things that matter in the work place.


My frustration here is for the collateral damage that is inevitable. Two years ago, another mill in the area closed down, at the time the impact was minimal as most workers got absorbed into the local economy, some at this mill (or secondary mill jobs) and a lot with (what was) a booming oil and gas industry. As of right now, oil and gas activity is reported to be only 10% of what it was 3 years ago! Our town is hurting, and this is before any announcements from the union. Currently, every street is littered with “for sale” signs. I can’t even let myself imagine how bad it could get come March/April.


Most of my own personal social network is connected to the mill through non-union staff positions. During the time we have lived here, we’ve know that the majority of union employees make equivalent or more per year than staffers. The difference is that all staffers are university and or technical school graduates. A big chunk of the union membership have never completed grade 12.


Depending on your position and years of seniority at the mill, your yearly wage could range between $50 to $100 K per year. I can’t help but feel that the lack of the membership’s education is directly responsible for the NO vote. Many are still convinced that this is a ploy on the company’s behalf to cut wages. I happen to know that this company has lost in excess of $70 million over the last 5 years. The fact that they are willing to invest once again, blows my mind.


The choice to say NO, is in effect the choice to say YES to the following:

1. To live on unemployment benefits for the next year at a bi-weekly salary of $750. It boggles my mind that these people are unwilling to take a 12% cut when the alternative is to live on 1/3 of their existing salary (based on the lowest paying job, make that 1/6 if you’re at the upper end ).

2. To give up all existing benefits.

3. To accept that once the company closes its doors they could stay closed for a long time. After 2 years without a negotiated contract, the union dissolves.

4. To never be able to sell your house or to sell it at a drastically reduced rate over the next 1 to 4 years.

5. To knowingly devastate the local economy.

6. To unnecessarily put your family through extreme stress and uncertainty.


Take a good long look at the global economy. These are not glory days. So many are hanging by an unraveling thread. Perspective is needed. Egos must be set aside. Just a few short years ago, Alberta was booming so loud the whole world was taking notice. That is not the case today. Those members with less than a grade 12 certificate, will have such difficulty trying to get work anywhere else ~ because no one else is hiring! So you’ll be stuck here, in a house that won’t sell trying to live on $750 every two weeks! And that good news only lasts for a year. Then what?


Lyn said...

It sounds like a very frustrating situation ...and it must be difficult not to feel hopeless about the whole thing. I hope things turn around for the town and the mill employees.

Smarts said...

Thanks, Lyn for your comment. I think I really needed to get that off my chest!

I love that life gives us many opportunities to grow. This is just one more. Honestly, I welcome experiences of all kinds (even though I sometimes have temporary and negative reactions to them ~ it is a part of the filtering and a step toward overcoming). It is usually the difficult ones that test our ingenuity! And make us braver than we thought we could be!

Much love, A

Anneke said...

Wow, that is tough. I find it hard to watch when people cut off their noses despite their face: how can they be so shortsighted?? (do I sound frustrated :-)?)

I admire your attitude :-).