Less than a week ago Corner Brook Pulp and Paper held an open house to give folks an opportunity to tour the mill and see first-hand the inner workings of paper making.
It was a warm invitation geared as a family event with balloons welcoming visitors at the mill gate, bouncy castles, face painting and kids games. While the heavy rain on Sunday may have dampened the outdoor fun, it didn’t dampen the spirit in which the day was planned.
The city mill wasn’t the only paper company celebrating last weekend. There were likely a few balloons, cake and more than a few bottles of bubbly popped in Cape Breton last week with the announcement Nova Scotia’s NDP Premier Darrell Dexter pulled out all the stops and sealed a deal with Vancouver’s Pacific West Commercial Corp. to reopen the former NewPage paper mill under the new name of Port Hawkesbury Paper.
The $124.5-million dollar deal is garnering plenty of criticism for Dexter and his team, but bottom line, for the time being anyway — after a year since losing their jobs — it is back to work for the hundreds of mill and forestry workers, bringing a collective sigh of relief for Cape Bretoners.
Skeptics are saying it was a wasted effort on Dexter’s part, and he fell to pressure of party unpopularity in his bid to reopen the mill. Others are quick to point out, Nova Scotia’s NDP government tried in vain to help the now-idled Bowater Mersey paper mill in Liverpool to no avail, which made it vital to the NDP’s image to save NewPage.
There is grave concern the reopening of the Point Tupper mill will be shortlived. Nova Scotia’s opposition parties are saying there is no guarantee West Commercial will stick around for the long haul.
Dexter is holding his head high, however.
“We didn’t do this because it was popular — we did it because it was the right thing to do.”
It doesn’t take an industry expert to realize the pulp and paper industry is in dire straits and each mill has its own issues.
In addition to market issues, a huge one for the city mill is the apparent inability for parent-company Kruger and the unions to come to terms. A few months ago it seemed inevitable that if the unions didn’t make more concessions the mill was done.
And some of the unions made those concessions, with more pay and benefit cuts to keep their jobs. While, you could say four tentative agreements are a healthy step in the right direction, the failure to get all the unions on board is like a black cloud hovering over the plant.
“It’s a tough contract, but we are tough people, so we’ll manage,” Gary Healey, a national representative with the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union, said in June when the votes were read.
For us on this side of the Cabot Strait, it can only be hoped Kruger’s heart is in the right place and even the small gesture of extending an invitation to the public to check out the mill is an indication it wants Corner Brook Pulp and Paper to continue on.
During Sunday’s open house, new manager Richard Tull credited mill employees for overcoming some of the recent challenges. During the seven months Tull has been leading the helm, he’s been getting the message workers would like to see the some improvements in working conditions.
Considering the weight put on these workers’ shoulders recently, such requests make it apparent they take pride in the mill and want to work in an environment they are proud of and feel safe and content in.
So if Kruger listens to its employees and implements some of the requested upgrades, it could be a huge boost to morale. And a boost in morale makes for a happy workers, which in turn makes productive workers — the mill’s most valuable asset.
While that won’t change the market, it’s a step in the right direction.