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“Being in limbo is very tough”: Tolko mill workers describe impact of indefinite shutdown

Dallas Rippel has worked at Tolko’s mill in Kelowna for more than 20 years.

His friend and co-worker, Randy Doering, has worked there even longer.

“I’ve worked at Tolko Industries in Kelowna for 25 years,” Doering told Global News.

READ MORE: ‘A lot of them are just in limbo’: laid-off Kelowna mill workers face uncertain future

The two are among dozens of workers now off the job due to the mill’s indefinite closure that was announced in mid-September.

“Being in limbo is very tough to move on,” Rippel said.

That’s because the closure is, at this point, indefinite — not permanent, which makes it tough to move on.

“Finding another job and knowing we have to go back with 72-hour notice will be a tough one, especially trying to get on somewhere else then having to be called back if we do start up again,” Rippel said.

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“We want answers, we want to know what’s going to happen.”

Laid off workers at Kelowna’s Tolko mill fear the indefinite closure may turn into a permanent one.
Laid off workers at Kelowna’s Tolko mill fear the indefinite closure may turn into a permanent one.

The Kelowna mill is the latest facility to shut down indefinitely in the wake of a major downturn in the forestry industry, due to high log prices and a dwindling timber supply.

For Doering, the uncertain situation has already resulted in life changes.

“We’ve had to downsize to a rancher and get rid of a lot of our stuff,” he said.

And while Doering is getting close to retirement, the indefinite shutdown has changed those plans, too.

“It’s just a different lifestyle. My wife and I had different plans,” he said. “I would have loved to continue work for a couple years and to have a more comfortable retirement.”

Okanagan lumber industry hurting like the rest of province
Okanagan lumber industry hurting like the rest of province

Doering feels for younger workers, who will have to consider their futures.

“Most of the younger guys there have been hit hard,” Doering said.

“They have to go back to school, they have to find work, they’re leaving town, they’re going up north.”

The indefinite shutdown has impacted more than 120 workers.

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That’s on top of the 90 employees laid off in July when the operation was reduced to one shift.

B.C. sawmills laying off employees
B.C. sawmills laying off employees

“This is a catastrophe for our province,” Doering said. “It’s very sad you know. This was the backbone of our country; 50 cents of every dollar used to come from forestry.”

Doeing believes the downturn can be turned around, in part through lower stumpage fees.

However, the government has said that option could make it more expensive for Canadian producers to sell to the U.S. in the long run.

“They promised us years ago, they were pleading us for our vote. ‘We promise to have your back, we wil be there for you, and give us a chance,’” Doering said about the government.

“They finally got our vote and the first thing they did is tax us 17 per cent and adding more taxes as it goes.”

READ MORE: Tolko Industries announces lumber mill in Kelowna will be closed indefinitely

As the workers wait it out, many have a feeling what the end result will likely be.

“We probably won’t start up again,” Rippel said. “It’s tough.”