A dozen of the 50 members from Local 1567 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers were called into the human resources office at the paper mill Wednesday. Eight of them were told their jobs were gone, while the other four were told theirs would soon follow.
Theirs were among a total of 46 positions throughout the mill that were either cut, reduced to casual pool status or which are vacant and won’t be filled in the aftermath of meetings between mill unions and the company Wednesday.
Ross Edison, Local 1567’s president, said it is mind-boggling that workers in his union have been deemed no longer necessary. He said his fellow machinists, millwrights, mechanics and welders worked the rough equivalent of one and a half years last year because there was so much to be done.
“All our guys could work whatever overtime they wanted, but there wasn’t one word said about labour costs last year,” Edison said Thursday. “Not once did (the company) come down and tell us we were working too much overtime or that labour (cost) was running too high. The only reason we were in there to work is because they needed us. Now, all of a sudden, they don’t need us? It makes no sense really.”
The huge backlog of maintenance work has not gone away, said Edison. Even if the mill’s many moving parts were to work perfectly for the next while, Edison said there is still six months worth of work.
More of that work is going to be done by contractors. One employee who got a pink slip Wednesday told The Western Star he saw a contractor doing his union job as he made his way to be told the bad news.
Edison said most of the contractors being hired are actually retired mill employees.
“If you got to trim the fat, you trim the fat, but that’s not what’s happening here,” he said. “What they’re doing is replacing one type of job with another type of job.”
Even more insulting is the news that salaried managers at the mill were recently given bonuses, he said.
“Can you tell me how providing a bonus is a cost-saving measure? You can’t,” said Edison. “There’s no explanation for it.”
The skilled workers the company is giving up on, said Edison, will be difficult to make up for. That, he said, will be a blow to the mill’s efforts to enhance the efficiency of its production.
“Some of these guys have 25 or 30 years in the mill and you will find no better workers in Canada,” he said. “How are you going to attract that kind of calibre employee back to this town and to this company? It won’t be done. I think the right decision for the mill is to keep these highly skilled tradesmen in place to keep the efficiency of the mill where it needs to be.”
The company, said Edison, never approached the union about its ideas on how they could cut costs or improve efficiency.
Many believe the pressure being applied on the unions is a tactic for outstanding labour contracts at the mill, which expired in May 2009. The machinists’ union has filed for conciliation as there have been no developments since it and the company exchanged proposals last summer.
The workforce reductions don’t even begin, added Edison, to address the looming problem of unfunded pension liabilities.
The cuts could also be a signal for help from government. Edison believes any government money should come with certain strings attached.
“There shouldn’t be a penney going to Kruger until they open up their books,” he said. “There should be jobs attached to any money given. They have to have some sort of guarantees.”
Kruger has promised the cuts on its labour costs, which it says are 40 per cent higher than the North American average. Edison said that does not represent a complete picture and it’s not fair to compare Corner Brook’s mill to others that do not have their own wood rooms, thermo-mechanical pulping processes and shipping staff.
“Break down all the costs from labour to power and mechanical costs and see how we compete,” he said. “I’ll put my guys against anybody.”