Walter: Anger, acceptance over mine closure

Trent Ernst, Editor

 

Hundreds of employees at Wolverine Mine are in shock after they discovered earlier this week that the mine was shutting down, effective immediately.

While there have been rumours abounding over the last few months, and even years, the closure came as a shock to many people.

Reactions have been mixed. Some people are bitter, though the people that the Tumbler Ridge News talked to were more prosaic.

Richard Zimmer, a heavy equipment operator on D Crew says he enjoyed working for Walter. “It was a great job. It was twenty minutes to work or back, and they gave you a ride. The pay was good and the schedule was awesome.”

More importantly, says Zimmer, was the fact that he could go home every night to see his family. Zimmer, who grew up in Tumbler Ridge, says he loves the town, and is hoping he can figure out a way to stay here. “I need work. I have a mortgage and a car payment. Hopefully I’ll be able to go work somewhere for a week and come back, rather than have to move and uproot everyone.”

Zimmer says in a perfect world, he would be able to find a job in town at the Murray River Mine being started by HD Mining, at Anglo American’s Peace River Coal project or at Quintette. “I don’t want to go out of town for a week,” he says, though that’s preferable to the alternative. But he’s not waiting around for Quintette to make an announcement, expected sometime this spring. “I’m already looking at potential jobs; I’d like to get ahead of the 700 people who are going to be doing the same thing.”

Zimmer says that, while the lack of a paycheque is not a good thing, the worst part of this will be the absence of his crew. “Everyone on D crew was awesome. I’ll miss them.”

Dale Sawatzky, who drives truck on D Crew, agrees. “It’s tough leaving your old crew, your friends, people who have become family. I really enjoyed working for Walter.”

He says that mine management told the workers two cycles ago point blank that the mine was not shutting down, but he believes they were as in the dark as the employees. “They were so sincere saying they were going to keep the mine open; they went to work and they had no idea. That’s how Walter keeps them from looking for other work.”

Like Zimmer, Sawatzky is already looking for other work. “I got to get work before I go into the hole.” He says he’s been told it will be two or three quarters before Walter even considers opening up. “I’m not waiting around for six or nine months for them to open.”

But like Zimmer, he is planning on sticking around, at least for the short term. “We’re going to stick it out here until my son graduates. We’ll see what happens in a year and a half, two years. We like it here, though we’re not planning to retire here.”

He says the reality hasn’t sunk it yet for most people, and even for the town. “In two weeks, you’re going to see a lot of people starting to hurt,” he says.

While rumours of the mine’s closure had been around almost since the day it opened, Sawatzky says that in the last few months, the rumours started to build, and there was a sense that the company wasn’t being quite as informative as they had in the past. Still, he says he enjoyed working for Walter. “They were very nice people. They treated everyone with respect. It felt like a mom and pop operation.”

Walter Energy, says Zimmer, isn’t as big a company as many other mining companies, and doesn’t have the deep pockets of, say, Anglo American. “We always knew that if a mine was going to shut down, ours was going to be first,” he says.

While both Zimmer and Sawatzky are accepting this as part of the mining lifestyle, others are not taking it so well, though none of the commentators took us up on our request for comment.