CORNER BROOK Retired workers at Corner Brook Pulp and Paper may have almost unanimously approved an extension for their former employer to cover its pension fund liabilities, but that doesn’t mean they are now strolling off without concern.
As they did with the initial vote back in May — which was stymied when the mill’s current workers rejected Kruger Inc.’s request for a five-year extension to repay what the company owes to the pension fund — hardly any of the retired mill workers voiced objection to a second vote, finalized last week.
After getting assurances in writing from both the government and the company that future pensions would not be affected by the funding relief measures, the current workers also overwhelmingly endorsed the extension this time around.
Gerald Parsons, chairman of the Corner Brook Pulp and Paper Union Pensioners Committee, said he and his fellow mill retirees now want to know what the company’s and the provincial government’s long-term plans are for the mill.
Government has said it would be willing to step in and help the company if it could come to agreements with its workers regarding pensions, collective agreements and a long-term viability plan.
Kruger has said, now that the pension issue has been settled, that it will continue to assess the operation’s viability.
“They asked us to go from five-year to 10-year (pension plan) funding, so you would think they have at least a 10-year plan for sure?” Parsons said Tuesday. “We want to know what the long-term plan is. If they have a plan that’s only one or two or three or five years, then we are in trouble.”
Parsons said he had been getting calls once or twice a week from the province while pensioners were considering the extension request. He has not heard from government since the pensioners approved the request.
He said he called Finance Minister Tom Marshall, who represents the Corner Brook district of Humber East, last week but has yet to hear back from the high-ranking MHA. The Western Star was also unable to reach Marshall for a comment Tuesday.
Parsons said his pension is dependent on the mill operating and he is concerned when he hears that the infrastructure inside the plant is deteriorating and skilled tradespeople are leaving on an all-too-frequent basis.
“When tradespeople are leaving, something has to happen,” he said. “If the equipment doesn’t shut her down, the want of maintenance is going to shut her down.”
The committee representing pensioners wants to be kept in the loop when the viability plan is dealt with by government and the mill’s current union officials.
“When government is presented with this package, someone from our committee of retirees should be sitting down with government and the unions to see what’s going to be happening with their plan,” said Parsons.
Any government help in the form of money must be invested in upgrading the paper mill’s infrastructure, implored Parsons.
“I’m hearing all kinds of stuff that there’s no money going into the mill and it’s going to go to Deer Lake Power,” he said. “I hope that’s not right. I can understand some going to Deer Lake Power, but some has got to go into that mill.”