A local forest worker celebrated a five decade milestone in the industry this year, with a career dating back to the late 1960s.
Percy Shymkiw, who came to the area from Savona, served various positions with his company and was on board as it changed ownership three different times during his time there.
In 50 years of employment, he also never had one sick day.
“I piled lumber, ran a vertical reach saw, and optimize edger was my last job, which I’m still doing and I’m going to pack it in June 30 next year,” said Shymkiw.
He added the company, which was called Clearwater Timber Products when he started, has had its ups and downs since he’s been there.
It all began for him, Shymkiw said, when a friend suggested he should go along to Vavenby and get a job with him.
“We worked for almost a month and they shut the mill down, then I had the option to either go to Clearwater or come back in two months,” said Shymkiw.
“So I came to Clearwater and worked here for 20 years until 1988 when they shut this mill down; we were transferred back to Vavenby, that was 30 years ago.”
When he started the job he said he was making roughly $2.52 an hour, had no pension plan and little for health benefits, including no dental plan or life insurance.
It was the union, he said, that improved on all these areas through collective bargaining.
He and his coworkers were originally part of the International Woodworkers of America, which became IWA Canada, before changing to the United Steel Workers.
“We’re still the same local, 1-417 and all the things we have gained through the years—wages and working conditions—were because of the officers in our local 1-417, past and present, and that’s why we have what we have today; better wages and working conditions,” Shymkiw said.
“(All of which) we wouldn’t have if we didn’t have the union. We’d probably be working for minimum wage.”
The mill would eventually shut down again for a couple years, but due to his seniority with the company, he was able to score a security job during that time.
On Oct. 29 he hit the 50 year mark with the job and was presented a jacket in honour of his time there.
Next year when he retires, Shymkiw said he has a project he wants to take on, which will be the new focus of his attention.
“I’ve got a 1930 Model A Ford I’m going to restore.”