DEER LAKE -
About 50 unionized forestry workers met at the Deer Lake Motel Tuesday morning to get information and vote on requests made by Kruger Inc. regarding the continued operation of Corner Brook Pulp and Paper Mill.
Communication, Energy and Paperworkers (CEP) Local 60N president Rick Fudge addressed the members, discussing the challenges affecting the mill and the options presented to them by Kruger.
Fudge said Kruger requested loggers sign on to a 10 per cent wage deferral loan-type agreement to signal to the company that workers were prepared to help out in the short term to help return the company to profitability.
The wage deferral program requires the paper company to repay the lost wages as soon as the mill returns to profitability and is caught up with its losses since the beginning of this year.
"What we're doing is certainly making sure that workers understand the circumstances of the industry," Fudge said. "There's no doubt that we've seen a lot of mills face these challenges, and the end result was mill closure."
He said CEP has been in constant contact with the provincial government and the owner of Kruger about options and the best course of action.
"We've been talking with government and they've expressed a concern with their talks with the company that this mill could close. We've met with the owner. He's certainly expressed a concern that he wasn't prepared to keep it running at a loss.
"We know no company can continue to operate with losses, so we certainly made sure that workers understood the situation that they're in. ... We're leaning towards optimistic, that this industry and this mill could survive in the future and the alternative to that was losing 100 per cent and losing their jobs. ... Basically, there's no doubt that we would rather see an optimistic vote here, a result that would be in favour of this proposal," he said.
Fudge said the meetings with employees are a result of consultations throughout the past year with Corner Brook Pulp and Paper. He suggested there was concern 2010 would bring huge deficits, and there was hope workers would demonstrate they were concerned and prepared to help.
Although after Tuesday morning's voting session it was too early to make any predictions, Fudge said it was clear everyone was concerned.
"We've seen people that were adamantly defiant, not going to vote for it. Everyone's concerned; no one wants to do this. I think everybody understands the situation. Some people are waiting it out. I wouldn't want to say how they voted, but there's no doubt that these people are able to rationalize this situation and I believe make the right decision. We hope that they did."
The loggers' union started casting votes in Gander Monday. By Tuesday evening, all votes were expected to be cast for CEP Local 60N.
"Throughout the day in Gander people were coming in because workers are working and it's hard to get to these meetings, harder for us than it is in the mill given that the workers are working shift work.
"For all intents and purposes in the woods now, we're finished. ... Within one month there is supposed to be some changes or, hopefully, some optimistic changes for the company's sake and for the workers', too, that will need to be done in order to make this a success," Fudge said.
The union makes up all CEP Local 60N forestry workers, such as those working in silviculture, silviculture thinners, loggers, chainsaw operators, mechanics and truck drivers. Fudge said the employees in the loggers' union reside in about 64 communities throughout central and western Newfoundland. He said the CEP Local 60N union is made up of about 180 active, seasonal workers this year.