CORNER BROOK — The deadline imposed on unions at Corner Brook Pulp and Paper to work out a new collective agreement with the company arrives today and both sides remain tight-lipped about what progress, if any, has been made.
Indications from recent contract negotiations at other pulp and paper mills are that the unions are being pressured into agreeing to concessions their members will find tough to accept.
Kruger Inc., which owns Corner Brook Pulp and Paper, also wants its current and retired employees to permit the company more time to replenish the company’s pension fund after that request was rejected by the unions last month.
While the entire province waits anxiously to see what will happen, one union under the Kruger umbrella is not happy that they are not being kept in the loop as to how talks are progressing.
Dawson Strangemore is vice-president of Local 495 of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers union at Deer Lake Power. That local is not at the table with the other CEP and trades workers unions who work for Corner Brook Pulp and Paper itself.
It is normal for Local 495 to work out a collective agreement that follows the pattern of the ones first agreed to by the mill unions. Strangemore has no problem with that, but the fact pensions are being discussed does bother him.
“Yes and no,” he said when asked would he like to be at the bargaining table with the mill unions this week.
“You know when shit is hitting the fan, you try to keep the other way. At the same time, you’d like to know what’s going on.
“The least they could do is let us know how things are going. We are only hearing rumours from other people about what they are looking for, but we have nothing in writing.”
Strangemore said he has no idea if the company has a different plan for the workers at Deer Lake Power, who are a little more than 20 in number.
He believes he and his members should have a say in any deal being worked out, especially if it will affect pensions.
“Every local has different work and different issues,” he said. “We’re not a pulp and paper company. We are a power company, but at least keep us in the loop when it comes to somebody wanting to cut my cheque or take my pension.”
The issue and the implications of the hydroelectric plant in Deer Lake being a separate identity from the paper mill it powers, was raised in a letter to the editor from two former mill union presidents in Thursday’s edition of The Western Star.
Ed Anstey and Jim Drover, who both once headed up CEP Local 64 — the largest union inside the mill — asked what would happen to Deer Lake Power should the Corner Brook mill cease operating and what would happen to pensions if the provincial government compensated Kruger for taking over the power plant from the company in the event of a closure of the mill.
The Western Star was unable to arrange an interview with Natural Resources Minister Jerome Kennedy to discuss those issues Thursday.