Union has no regrets

Terry Roberts
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Restructuring rejection accelerated the inevitable, Healey says

There's plenty of sadness and nostalgia among people put out of work by the closure of the AbitibiBowater newsprint mill in Grand Falls-Windsor, but union boss Gary Healey said he hasn't heard any regrets about how events unfolded over the past six months or so.

"I have not met one single person who would change their vote," Healey, national representative for the Communications', Energy and Paperworkers union (CEP), said Thursday.

There's plenty of sadness and nostalgia among people put out of work by the closure of the AbitibiBowater newsprint mill in Grand Falls-Windsor, but union boss Gary Healey said he hasn't heard any regrets about how events unfolded over the past six months or so.

"I have not met one single person who would change their vote," Healey, national representative for the Communications', Energy and Paperworkers union (CEP), said Thursday.

He was referring to restructuring plans by the company, and the overwhelming rejection of those plans on two occasions last year by unionized workers at the mill, in the woods and at the port in Botwood.

The company eventually announced in December it would close the mill, citing high labour and operational costs, and a global newsprint industry that's been in a tailspin.

AbitibiBowater has also been staving off bankruptcy.

There was no indication the company was willing to invest in its paper-making operation in Newfoundland, so any restructuring would only delay the inevitable, said Healey.

"The restructuring that had been proposed was not a document that any of the workers, or very few, were prepared to accept," Healey said. "So it's not a case of crying over spilled milk. They all understood the consequences of their earlier actions. So while there's sadness, there are no regrets."

After months of uncertainty, negotiations and debate, the two paper machines at the mill fell silent during the early hours of Thursday, putting an end to a century of paper-making in the area. Healey said less than half of those working at the mill will be eligible for a pension; the remainder will either have to retrain or seek employment elsewhere.

Grand Falls-Windsor was built around the paper industry and was described as the epicentre of industrialization in the province when the mill opened in 1909. Generations of people in the area have found employment in the pulp and paper industry, but now the area must get used to a future without a paper mill.

Healey said it may not be as hard as many might think. He said no one is planning a day of mourning or a moment of silence and people seem willing to lean on their own resources and skills to overcome the loss of the mill. He is hopeful that the forest industry can be resurrected in the area.

"We're going to walk away from the mill and begin the process of forgetting about Abitibi as quickly as we can," Healey said.

People in the area have been closely watching the response of the provincial and municipal governments. There is a ministerial task force, enhanced services for displaced workers and plenty of talk about undisclosed business proposals that could generate employment in the area. National and international headlines were created in December when the provincial government passed legislation expropriating all of AbitibiBowater's assets in the province, and politicians speak with cautious optimism about the future.

It's not the doom and gloom you might expect from a region that is losing 750 permanent jobs, $48 million in salaries and roughly $90 million in expenditures on supplies and services.

Healey, for one, has high hopes that the provincial government will come through for the area, but he's not interested in short-term make-work projects.

"We want good paying jobs that bring benefits to the community," he said.

Grand Falls-Windsor Mayor Rex Barnes offered assurances every effort is being made to create long-term jobs in the area, but he doesn't expect they will include salaries at the level to which people are accustomed. It's been reported the average mill employee earns $70,000.

"When jobs are created, we're looking at jobs of at least $35,000 to $40,000 a year. That's not unreasonable in today's environment," Barnes said.

The 450 people who work at the mill will stay on the job until the end of March, securing the facility. A company official said it's too early to say what will happen to the decaying factory, which used to produce about 200,000 tonnes of newsprint each year.

troberts@thetelegram.com

Organizations: AbitibiBowater, Paperworkers union

Geographic location: Grand Falls-Windsor, Botwood, Grand Falls Newfoundland Abitibi

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  • Greg
    July 02, 2010 - 13:22

    The union took a gamble and it didn't pay off. Sad thing is an entire community (and province) will have to suffer because of a narror minded union!

    This is not the first time a union shut down an industry and politians allow this to happen.

  • Sterling
    July 02, 2010 - 13:21

    The reason Mr. Healey hasn't met any union members who would have changed their vote is because he's hiding to keep from being shot... The membership and the town should purchase tar and feathers and line the union executive up on the town's main street. While they are at it don't forget the tar/feathers for the MHA's and of course Mrs. Blunderdale.

    Can't wait until the next election to vote these clowns out of office. I wonder how long the CEP will keep Mr. Healy on the payroll with his $80,000 plus salary and benefits.

    Sad day indeed .. Oh ya check out the other story on the MHA's news conference in front of the mill. How low can politicians go trying to score political points on someone's misfortune. On second thought forget the feathers just dip em all in hot tar.

  • Barry
    July 02, 2010 - 13:16

    Union has no regrets. What a joke. The mill is close because of the Union Mr Healey. That combined with the bully Danny Williams and his government wht company in its right mind would want to continue doing business in this province. I hope your proud Mr Healey the big Union boss. I guess you think no jobs are better than a couple of hundred plus the spin offs. You make me puke.

  • JK
    July 02, 2010 - 13:10

    Yes, unions are bad. Just terrible! And big companies NEVER do wrong. I got the message. Thanks.

  • Greg
    July 01, 2010 - 20:06

    The union took a gamble and it didn't pay off. Sad thing is an entire community (and province) will have to suffer because of a narror minded union!

    This is not the first time a union shut down an industry and politians allow this to happen.

  • Sterling
    July 01, 2010 - 20:05

    The reason Mr. Healey hasn't met any union members who would have changed their vote is because he's hiding to keep from being shot... The membership and the town should purchase tar and feathers and line the union executive up on the town's main street. While they are at it don't forget the tar/feathers for the MHA's and of course Mrs. Blunderdale.

    Can't wait until the next election to vote these clowns out of office. I wonder how long the CEP will keep Mr. Healy on the payroll with his $80,000 plus salary and benefits.

    Sad day indeed .. Oh ya check out the other story on the MHA's news conference in front of the mill. How low can politicians go trying to score political points on someone's misfortune. On second thought forget the feathers just dip em all in hot tar.

  • Barry
    July 01, 2010 - 19:56

    Union has no regrets. What a joke. The mill is close because of the Union Mr Healey. That combined with the bully Danny Williams and his government wht company in its right mind would want to continue doing business in this province. I hope your proud Mr Healey the big Union boss. I guess you think no jobs are better than a couple of hundred plus the spin offs. You make me puke.

  • JK
    July 01, 2010 - 19:46

    Yes, unions are bad. Just terrible! And big companies NEVER do wrong. I got the message. Thanks.