Union head feels time has come to turn mill around

Gary
Gary Kean
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Wood is taken to be processed at Corner Brook Pulp and Paper Thursday, Jan. 3. 2013.

CORNER BROOK — Things could always get worse, but Bruce Randell, head of the papermakers union at Corner Brook Pulp and Paper, hopes 2013 will be a better year than the last one.

Last year was easily one of the more dismal in the nearly 88-year history of the newsprint mill.

It started out with rumours of big job losses last winter, which did eventually become a reality when around 50 employees got their pink slips in early February. Then came a contentious request from the company to have an extension to the amount of time it had to give up to its financial obligations to the pensions of both current and retired mill workers.

The company was granted that extension, but not before some bitter negotiations over new contracts to replace the long-expired ones the mill’s unionized employees were working under. Four of the six unions inside the mill agreed to concession-laden contracts in June, while a fifth union — Local 96, representing electricians —held out until October before also agreeing.

The sixth union, Lodge 1567 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, have still not come to an agreement with the company.

Two other unions outside the mill are also without new contracts. Woodlands employees rejected the contract offered to them in November, while workers at Deer Lake Power have yet to commence negotiations.

Then, in December, Corner Brook Pulp and Paper announced it was shutting down one of its two paper machines for a 15-day period. The machine is scheduled to start production again today.

All of this happened in the context of an industry that continues to struggle globally with low demand for the newsprint product and a high Canadian dollar. The provincial government has made a commitment to help out the company once it can work things out with its workers and present a long-term sustainability plan.

“When everybody gets settled way, hopefully the company, the unions and government can see if we construct a better future for this mill for the long term,” said Randell, president of Local 242 of the Communications, Energy and Papermakers union, the second largest union in the mill.

“I’m optimistic we will be able to do that in 2013.”

As Randell has said publicly before, the mill’s infrastructure needs investment and upgrading in order for the operation to maintain competitiveness in a tough marketplace that has seen production curtailed and many plants closed outright.

“We don’t need a month-by-month plan,” he said. “We need a plan that will allow us to keep going for the next 10 years and beyond. If the right things are put in place, there is no reason why this mill can’t be one of the last ones to shut.”

Randell said it is frustrating not seeing those investments being made yet, more than six months after the four unions — including the two biggest locals, Local 64 and Local 242 — agreed to concessions to keep the mill going.

“What we were told in the summer was that, if the bigger unions would sign on, then that would be a way forward and that the smaller unions in the mill ... if they didn’t sign, would not hinder us from sitting down together and finding a long-term plan for the mill,” he said. “Now, they are holding everything up because of one small trade union in the mill? That doesn’t make sense.”

The provincial government has not announced exactly how it is willing to help, but indications are the assistance would include money for upgrading infrastructure. In November, Finance Minister Tom Marshall said the province was still gathering information about the mill’s operation before signing off on any plan.

Marshall had hoped to have the process completed by the end of the year, but no announcements have been made yet.

The Western Star requested interviews regarding the outlook for 2013 with both the general manager of Corner Brook Pulp and Paper and with the head offices of parent company Kruger Inc. in Montreal, but the company declined to discuss the coming year at this point in time.

Organizations: Local 242, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, Papermakers union Kruger Inc.

Geographic location: CORNER BROOK, Western Star, Montreal

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  • BC Newfie
    January 08, 2013 - 02:12

    The reason last year and years past were tough is because its 2013 ! nobody reads newspapers anymore, no use for newsprint, everything is online why do you need to go buy it when you can simply wake up turn on the computer and read it? Saw mill is not a bad idea, make toilet paper is a better idea no matter what year you live in you will need this, but absolutly the wages have to be lower, instead of giving one guy 30 bucks and hour hire 2 guys at 15 bucks and see the difference it makes,

    • david
      January 10, 2013 - 10:08

      Scab! Scab! Scab! Scab! Scab!....etc etc etc.

  • Mr. Rong
    January 07, 2013 - 19:35

    I say just close the thing down. Really, who uses paper anymore? Nobody! The world we live in today does not have a demand for paper. With all the green teams out there helping reduce the amount we use, computers, mobile devices and more, I say it would do the city much success to just close it down. They should switch industries, tire burning failed, how about a saw mill and producing good lumber out of what we have to offer here on the island. It just seems to me everyone I talk to is always saying "Well mr so and so has been there for over 30 years and its not right to close it so he is laid off/released" well wake up Corner Brook. How much money are you really getting from all of this? Close it, move on, let the old die off and let the new make the change needed to turn it into something that it has potential of living up to in todays age of technology...not paper!

  • business owner
    January 07, 2013 - 16:40

    I agree with "talking smoke" time for government to stop throwing tax payers money to huge corporations and do away with unions. This company is getting more than they should from the people of Newfoundland already.

  • Talking Smoke
    January 07, 2013 - 15:19

    If the provincial government provides any money to the Corner Brook mill then the money should only come from the taxpayers in Corner Brook. Period The mill is a private business. No taxpayer money, outside of Corner Brook, should be put into the mill in Corner Brook. Make the mill a non-union facility; reduce costs to make paper and walla it will be competitive on the world market. Otherwise let it die...... It has taken up far too much space in the news and needs to go to rest.....

  • david
    January 07, 2013 - 09:19

    Yes..it would be nice to start working on that. Seems like the "time has come", does it? Ding ding ding. Atlantic Canadian unions have to be among the most obliviously unqualified, self-destructuive gangs of clueless thugs on Earth. And in the too-late-now innings of the game, their playbook calls for casting themselves as contrite, teamplaying doves with olive branches and open minds.....you got your easy dues money for 80 years, call it a great run and move on to WalMart.

  • lonenewfwolf
    January 07, 2013 - 06:24

    Kruger Energy? Biomass Co-generation Facility Upgrades? Deer Lake Power? Water Rights? Export via EMERA's private transmission line to the US? Go Deeper.