CORNER BROOK — The fate of Corner Brook Pulp and Paper is on the public’s mind, whether they work at the mill or not.
David and Pauline Barry had a few questions about the city’s once biggest employer as they ate lunch on the Majestic Lawn Sunday afternoon.
The couple, neither of whom are employed at the mill, said they are not the only ones wondering what will happen.
During a social weekend gathering, the mill’s uncertainty was a topic of discussion among friends, they said.
The Barrys said they do not envy the predicament mill workers are facing.
Kruger Inc., the mill’s owner, is asking its employees to sign a new collective agreement, including pensions changes, before the company decides on the mill’s viability. The company is now giving the unions until Friday to accept that proposal.
“The future of the mill is now in the hands of its employees,” said a Kruger statement released Saturday. ”The company must settle labour issues by the end of next week, so it can quickly resolve other pressing issues.”
Pauline is unsure why the company would need to access its viability, based on numbers presented by MP Gerry Byrne last Sunday.
Byrne presented figures to over 300 people attending a public meeting showing the mill is doing better than a lot of pulp mills in Canada, including those in Quebec, the home province of Kruger.
She said it seems Kruger is using its employees as scapegoats, holding them accountable whether the company decides to keep the mill running or close it down.
“If they don’t reach an agreement, they’ll blame the employees (for the mill shutting down),” she said.
The alternative is for workers to accept concessions on wages and other issues, but even then there is no guarantee the mill will even survive to pay out the benefits in the agreement.
Workers are between a rock and a hard place, said David, and he feels for the mill employees who have been living with so much uncertainty in recent months.
“Corner Brook can’t live under the threat of the mill,” said David. “The city has got to find a new direction.”
David, who works at Western Collision autobody shop, suspects if the mill closes, it will have an outward impact on the business community.
A lot of the vehicles he works on are paid for from mill salaries, he said.
Mark Patey of Humber Road, agrees. He said he does not foresee anything good coming from the uncertainty surrounding the mill.
Patey suspects within a few years Kruger will pull the plug on CBPP and the city will turn into a ghost town.
“It’s as good as gone,” he said. “Joe Kruger made his money here.”
Friday night, Kruger walked away from last-ditch negotiations after presenting its final offer to workers who have been without a collective agreement for three years.
Kruger previously requested the unions grant a five-year extension to repay the unfunded portion of their pension plan, which the unions rejected last month.