After news came out on social media last week that the Vaagen Brothers mill in Midway would be moving from using independent contractors to a provincial company, it is clear the change will impact local owner/operators of trucking companies in the Boundary area.
One local, who owns and operates Sun Rider Ranch with his father, said he is drastically impacted by the change. He can no longer work in the area, after he said he received only a day’s notice from Vaagen. He asked that the name of his company be used in lieu of his personal name, as he doesn’t want to jeopardize a chance at a future job.
Over the summer, he said, rumours started to fly that Sutco may be taking over some contracting, but he didn’t take it too seriously. In a casual conversation, everything seemed to be fine and the mill manager said business was “great.” The next day, he said, he received his notice.
“It was Sept. 21, I talked to the mill manager and asked him how things were going. He said it was fine, we were busy and moving well. The next morning I came into work and … he said today was the last day.”
As he understands it, the decision came from Vaagen Brothers headquarters in Colville, and he doesn’t blame the local mill for what has happened. However, he said he knows the employees don’t want to see him go, having built a routine and rapport over the three years he has been driving lumber for them. He is a father of six, and grew up in Grand Forks. He is not the only hauler who is affected, although he said some others are unwilling to speak out.
Sutco representative Doug Sutherland said this was just an expansion of the work they already do for Vaagen, and they do try to hire local drivers.
“Yes we are currently doing more work for Vaagen, 100 per cent, along with many other companies,” Sutherland said. “We never stop advertising for drivers, we always try to hire local and we are continuing to try and do it. We are currently advertising in the area for jobs.” Sutco has advertised in the Grand Forks Gazette for drivers.
“We lose and gain contracts, and we continue to hire in every community we are in all over British Columbia,” Sutherland said.
However, that won’t help local owner/operated companies, this owner said. In most cases they have bought their own equipment, and are now faced with the choice to sell and drive for another company, like Sutco, or try and find work for their trucks elsewhere.
Local contractors do more for the community than just drive trucks, this owner said: they also buy local gas and use local mechanics for their trucks. This owner estimates that he spent about $8,000 a month at the local gas station, and much more getting his two trucks serviced with local mechanics in Greenwood, Midway and Grand Forks.
The owner said he was surprised he wasn’t offered the chance to bid on the project and potentially match the price Sutco is offering. From what he understands, it is substantially cheaper, but the exact dollar figure remains unclear.
“They never offered me an opportunity to compete. They never said, ‘can you match the rate and keep going?’” he said.
David Bruce, the chief financial officer of Vaagen Brothers based in Colville, said the issue was one around reliability. With their new reload facility in Grand Forks, they need to guarantee number of loads – something that is easier to do with a large corporation with set schedules. Bruce maintains the decision was not a financial one.
“We moved forward with Sutco on a longer term contract … mainly based on who we felt would be the most consistent,” he said. “We made the best business decision to be as competitive as we can.”
This owner said he did not want to undervalue the impact of Vaagen Fibre in the Midway community – it’s true, he said, that they employed many people. However, on his level, being replaced with a corporation runs counter to their commitment to being and hiring local.
“I understand business is business, bottom dollar, money talks, but all the locals invested [in the mill],” he said.
“It is a matter of ‘they can do it for cheaper.’ They never offered me a cheaper rate, [even though] I had been doing it for several years and every day I was there.”