In a vote, workers recently rejected a proposal placed on the table by the mill’s owner, Kruger, for pension funding relief measures. The company has stated it must now reassess the viability of its Corner Brook operations.
CEP Local 495 vice-president Dawson Strangemore said from his local’s perspective the union is bearing the brunt of the blame for the situation in media reports and Internet blogging sites, which he called “unfair.”
The union chapter covers the workers at the Deer Lake power plant which has been providing power to the mill since 1924. It has approximately 20 workers, making it the smallest local in the area.
“We don’t speak often, but I think people are missing the point,” said Strangemore.
“I’m not blaming the company here but it’s pretty obvious that the unions are getting the brunt of the blame and I don’t think it’s fair to blame the union.”
Strangemore said union members never once spoke at their union hall about the issue. They never debated it, never voted on it as a union and never spoke about it at all during the regular meetings. There was no emergency meeting called on the issues either, he said. Members voted as individuals, he said, not as union members.
“If they want to blame someone, as far as we’re concerned, democracy was shown, so blame democracy,” said Strangemore. “It was workers, active workers (who voted) and it had nothing to do with the union.”
He said everyone, from union and non-union members to executives, had a vote.
“They asked for this relief from pensioners, staff, management and non management,” he said. “So why is it being publicized and being blogged, blaming it on union executive members for the demise of the mill if Mr. Kruger so happens to shut the thing down, when all of the voting was sent to members’ regular mail?”
Strangemore said Local 495 is in a the unique position of being affiliated with the mill but not really being tied to it, which hasn’t always been fair for power plant employees. In the last 10 years retirees have left without being replaced and there have been layoffs. The difference, he explained, is that unlike at the mill, the power plant’s workload does not diminish.
“If they take a cut, we take a cut, and why? Our work is the same here as it was in 1924 when they opened the power plant,” he said. “It’s the same work and we’re losing men anyway.”
Kruger recently asked employees for an extra five years to fund the roughly 30 per cent of unfunded portion of their pension plan. Last Friday it was announced that the proposal was turned down by the workers, with 177 of the 326 union members saying no. Retired non-union employees and retired union members endorsed the plan. The law states it could not be opposed by more than one-third of members in each group (active and retirees.)