Corner Brook -
Unionized employees at Corner Brook Pulp and Paper are not about to rush into negotiating a new contract, even though they have been without a new collective agreement for more than a year and a pattern-setting deal has been reached within the industry.
Traditionally, new collective bargaining agreements signed between the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers (CEP) union - which represents the majority of the Corner Brook mill's employees - and AbitibiBowater sets a trend for negotiations elsewhere in the industry in Canada.
While that still may be the case, unprecedented conditions in the marketplace have made the unfolding of the pattern less smooth as it has been in years past.
The CEP's Eastern Canadian Pulp and Paper caucus announced in May that the terms of the five-year agreement reached with AbitibiBowater earlier that month would set the pattern for Eastern Canada. The extraordinary factor is that AbitibiBowater is in bankruptcy protection and is in the midst of being restructured under the Companies' Creditors Arrangements Act.
The deal maintains all current pensions and accrued pension service, but this most contentious component of the negotiated and ratified contract still has strings attached.
"I must emphasize that everything we have negotiated and ratified is now conditional on government approval in Quebec and Ontario," Dave Coles, CEP's national president, is quoted as saying in an article published on the union's website.
The agreement also includes a 10 per cent wage reduction, with wage increases resuming in 2012 and 2013.
In Corner Brook, workers agreed to a 10 per cent wage deferral earlier this year. Pensions are also going to be an important focus when negotiations begin, which is not likely to happen until at least this fall.
Gary Healey, CEP's national representative in Newfoundland and Labrador, said there is no harm in waiting to see what happens with the pension issue before negotiations with Corner Brook Pulp and Paper advance beyond the low-level talks that have been going on for some time.
"I don't know if it (the pension issue) is delaying the process or not," Healey told The Western Star. "I wouldn't say categorically that it is. Some companies are waiting for that to be dealt with definitively because they may want to make changes to their pension plans.
"Right now, Kruger (Corner Brook Pulp and Paper's parent company) is not signalling they want to do anything one way or the other. So, it's status quo and the collective agreement that is in force is continuing to be in force."
Getting to the table to hammer out a new deal will have to happen at some point, but Healey said nobody is all that eager to go there yet, given the newsprint industry is still trying to get itself back in shape.
He hopes the industry will continue to improve until bargaining time comes.
"It's going to be a fairly significant round, no matter which way it goes, because the industry is in trouble," Healey said. "We want to help the industry survive, but at the same time, we don't want to give away the ship.
"Looking forward, the industry doesn't seem to be in such a severe situation as it was last year. There are some signs of delicate recovery and everybody is hoping that not rushing to the table is as good a strategy as any right now."