CORNER BROOK As expected, unionized workers at Corner Brook Pulp and Paper had a change of heart when given a second opportunity to consider pension plan funding relief measures for their employer.
Friday was the deadline for workers to object to Kruger Inc. ‘s request for a five-year extension to come up with its share of the unfunded liabilities in the pension plan.
After 54 per cent of them rejected the company’s proposal in May, less than six per cent — or 19 of the 321 active members — voiced opposition to the extension during the second vote.
Retired members, who almost unanimously approved the relief measures the first time around, did so again with only seven rejections among the 645 members, for a 1.1 per cent rate of rejection.
Kruger, the mill’s Montreal-Based parent company, confirmed the results, as per the final report of independent auditor Brian N. Hillier, in a press release issued Friday.
“These relief measures were essential to the mill’s ability to compete in the market and will enable the company to pursue its assessment of the mill’s long-term viability,” the company said in its press release. “The next step will be for the company to present a sustainability plan to its lenders and to the Newfoundland and Labrador government within the coming weeks.”
The unions had rejected the proposal initially because of concerns the formula used to calculate the pension values would be changed in 2014.
That concern has since been alleviated by the provincial government committing in writing to amend any legislation that would have made such changes possible.
The rejection of the proposal the first time around set off a series of events that led to six of the mill’s eight unions entering into negotiations for new collective agreements. Four of the unions agreed to new, concession-laden contracts, while two others rejected the offers made to them.
Those two unions, both of which represent skilled trades in the mill who feel their members are in demand elsewhere and found the concessions asked of them unacceptable, are still without new labour contracts.
Kruger said, without the new collective agreements and a successful second vote on the pension issue, the future of the paper mill operation was in jeopardy.
During the proces, the provincial government said it was willing to help out if the company and its workers could come to terms on a plan for the mill’s long-term sustainability.
The precise details of how government would help have not yet been revealed, although government has indicated it would not involve operational subsidies.