New operator possible: union

Terry Roberts
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Forestry

The AbitibiBowater newsprint mill in Grand Falls-Windsor will close in late March, but it doesn't necessarily mean that the 100-year history of paper-making in the central Newfoundland region is over, says Gary Healey.

"I know the industry is in a tailspin, but there are going to be survivors after all this is over," said Healey, national representative for the Communications, Energy and Papermakers' (CEP) union, which represents most of the roughly 700 people who will be out of work when the mill closes in less than four months.

The AbitibiBowater newsprint mill in Grand Falls-Windsor will close in late March, but it doesn't necessarily mean that the 100-year history of paper-making in the central Newfoundland region is over, says Gary Healey.

"I know the industry is in a tailspin, but there are going to be survivors after all this is over," said Healey, national representative for the Communications, Energy and Papermakers' (CEP) union, which represents most of the roughly 700 people who will be out of work when the mill closes in less than four months.

Healey believes a new operator for the mill could be lured to the area if control of water and land rights can be wrestled away from AbitibiBowater.

He believes the provincial government should take whatever steps are necessary to make that happen.

AbitibiBowater, in partnership with other companies, operates hydro-electric power stations on the Exploits River and at Star Lake, and sells power to Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, a provincial Crown corporation.

The company also has control of vast areas of forests as part of a charter signed a century ago when the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company established the mill in Grand Falls-Windsor.

The provincial government has stated it is exploring all possibilities, including expropriation.

Some have predicted a long legal struggle, since the company has signed contracts for the sale of power, and the charter is a binding document.

But Healey and others say the company should be challenged.

"They should not be allowed to go back to Montreal and run a powerhouse and harvest trees off our land," Healey said.

Healey acknowledged that the chances of a new operator taking over AbitibiBowater's assets may seem unlikely, "but just remember how much resource is attached to this mill."

The demand for newsprint has been shrinking dramatically in recent years, and producers have been forced to reduce capacity.

AbitibiBowater, the world's largest paper company, announced last week that it was permanently closing its money-losing Grand Falls-Windsor mill because of challenging market conditions and the high cost of making paper at the dilapidated facility.

The union twice rejected restructuring proposals aimed at reducing operational and labour costs. The union was especially critical of the lack of an early retirement incentive for older workers, the high number of job losses - up to 200, and the potential for widespread contracting out.

The union has been heavily criticized for its actions, with some saying acceptance of the company's restructuring plans could have saved the mill.

Healey said it's not as simple as that.

He said the company did not show a commitment to running the business in the long term, and attempted to force conditions upon the workers it knew would never be accepted.

"The decision to reject that document was made with good judgment. The people who worked in that mill made that decision and they are prepared to live with the outcome," he said.

The mill has operated for years under a cloud of uncertainty, with repeated downsizings and employee reductions.

Healey said there's actually a sense of relief in some quarters that the uncertainty is now over.

Meanwhile, the former manager of government and community relations at the mill, Roger Pike, has weighed in on the decision to close the mill.

He said blame can be placed evenly in different directions, including the company, the union and the provincial government.

He said it's sad that a century of papermaking in the town went down the tubes without even a demonstration or a protest.

"Those who are directly impacted and the business community that will suffer will now pay a steep price for the counterfeit leadership displayed on the AbitibiBowater crisis," he wrote in a column published Monday in The Advertiser, a Transcontinental Media community newspaper that serves the Grand Falls-Windsor region.

troberts@thetelegram.com

Organizations: AbitibiBowater, Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company

Geographic location: Grand Falls-Windsor, Newfoundland, Exploits River Star Lake Montreal Grand Falls Windsor

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Comments

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Recent comments

  • Tim
    July 02, 2010 - 13:34

    This might be completely inconceivable, but should be something to be considered. We have a pulp and papermill constructed with power generation. We have a long-term and dedicated workforce. What we do not have is a commercially viable paper recycling industry on the island. Why not use the infrastructure that is in existence to create an industry which turns a profit and continues to employ a majority of the existing workforce? We would not only be creating and continuing to employ the community, but returning a much-needed product with minimal environmental impact.

    This could be used to recycle newsprint, cardboard and other paper byproducts and produce a wide variety of consumables which in turn could be sold to the population at a profit while at the same time reducing our need to continue to decimate the limited forest resources of the island.

    People have asked for a solution yet none offer any. The Williams government needs to step up to the plate and use this great oil surplus to purchase this mill to create the Crown Corporation which will return employment and revenue to the province. Failing to do so would show that the Williams government has placed environmental stewardship at the bottom of its portfolio. Not only will it show that the Williams government no longer cares about the population but has shown that not caring for protecting the limited natural resources which this province still retains is part of its mandate we have not been told of.

    A proper recycling programme is required to not only to retain employment opportunities but will be creating revenue and jobs now and for future generations.

    Or is it a better thing to let this site fall down and have even more people on EI?

  • B
    July 02, 2010 - 13:32

    Of the 700 people losing jobs, i'm sure that some of them must have some kind of business sense. Why don't they get together and to try, with the help of the governement, to buy the place and put their experience to work, without unions. It's been done before.

  • JimSmith
    July 02, 2010 - 13:21

    You guys need to get a grip on reality. You can't just convert a mill from one product to another without MASSIVE capital. MASSIVE. And recycled mills are shutting down already because of overcapacity and low prices. You don't honestly think this could actually work? Can anybody say Labrador Linerboard?

  • Joe
    July 02, 2010 - 13:14

    Time for Mr Healey to pull his head out of the sand and get into the real world. The union is now 2 for 2 in shutting down mills in NL.

  • Ev
    July 02, 2010 - 13:14

    Many years of Union members abuse has come home to roost. When cost of doing business outstrips profit, that business will not survive for long. It dies a death of a million cuts.

  • JimSmith
    July 02, 2010 - 13:12

    This mill will not be re-opened or converted to another product. See UPM @ Miramichi. It's not going to happen.

    On top of that, who is going to want to deal with the unions at GFW? Do you have any idea the damage that has been done? See Stephenville.

  • Loghead
    July 02, 2010 - 13:11

    It's no wonder Gary Healey is a Union Rep. He obviously lacks the intelligence to get a job anywhere else if he seriously thinks they could find someone to operate that Mill. If he understood anything about the reality of the global newsprint industry he would have been recommending acceptance of the companies offer. I'm not suggesting that the Union is entirely to blame here( they aren't), but they certainly pulled the plug on any lifesupport for the GFW Mill( and Stephenville before that)

  • tom
    July 02, 2010 - 13:10

    gary healey wake up you screwed up resign now .

  • Tim
    July 01, 2010 - 20:23

    This might be completely inconceivable, but should be something to be considered. We have a pulp and papermill constructed with power generation. We have a long-term and dedicated workforce. What we do not have is a commercially viable paper recycling industry on the island. Why not use the infrastructure that is in existence to create an industry which turns a profit and continues to employ a majority of the existing workforce? We would not only be creating and continuing to employ the community, but returning a much-needed product with minimal environmental impact.

    This could be used to recycle newsprint, cardboard and other paper byproducts and produce a wide variety of consumables which in turn could be sold to the population at a profit while at the same time reducing our need to continue to decimate the limited forest resources of the island.

    People have asked for a solution yet none offer any. The Williams government needs to step up to the plate and use this great oil surplus to purchase this mill to create the Crown Corporation which will return employment and revenue to the province. Failing to do so would show that the Williams government has placed environmental stewardship at the bottom of its portfolio. Not only will it show that the Williams government no longer cares about the population but has shown that not caring for protecting the limited natural resources which this province still retains is part of its mandate we have not been told of.

    A proper recycling programme is required to not only to retain employment opportunities but will be creating revenue and jobs now and for future generations.

    Or is it a better thing to let this site fall down and have even more people on EI?

  • B
    July 01, 2010 - 20:21

    Of the 700 people losing jobs, i'm sure that some of them must have some kind of business sense. Why don't they get together and to try, with the help of the governement, to buy the place and put their experience to work, without unions. It's been done before.

  • JimSmith
    July 01, 2010 - 20:04

    You guys need to get a grip on reality. You can't just convert a mill from one product to another without MASSIVE capital. MASSIVE. And recycled mills are shutting down already because of overcapacity and low prices. You don't honestly think this could actually work? Can anybody say Labrador Linerboard?

  • Joe
    July 01, 2010 - 19:53

    Time for Mr Healey to pull his head out of the sand and get into the real world. The union is now 2 for 2 in shutting down mills in NL.

  • Ev
    July 01, 2010 - 19:53

    Many years of Union members abuse has come home to roost. When cost of doing business outstrips profit, that business will not survive for long. It dies a death of a million cuts.

  • JimSmith
    July 01, 2010 - 19:49

    This mill will not be re-opened or converted to another product. See UPM @ Miramichi. It's not going to happen.

    On top of that, who is going to want to deal with the unions at GFW? Do you have any idea the damage that has been done? See Stephenville.

  • Loghead
    July 01, 2010 - 19:48

    It's no wonder Gary Healey is a Union Rep. He obviously lacks the intelligence to get a job anywhere else if he seriously thinks they could find someone to operate that Mill. If he understood anything about the reality of the global newsprint industry he would have been recommending acceptance of the companies offer. I'm not suggesting that the Union is entirely to blame here( they aren't), but they certainly pulled the plug on any lifesupport for the GFW Mill( and Stephenville before that)

  • tom
    July 01, 2010 - 19:46

    gary healey wake up you screwed up resign now .