Unions at Corner Brook Pulp and Paper met Wednesday with the same company officials who last week informed them a plan was being implemented to rationalize the paper mill’s operations.
This time, however, the unions walked away with news there will be 43 fewer full-time positions among their collective ranks.
The number was about half of the 90 jobs initially reported to be on the chopping block, and much less than the 135 indicated in a memo sent to the media from Kruger’s head offices in Montreal the same day as last week’s meetings. The number also does not include the unions representing woodlands workers or Deer Lake Power, a subsidiary of Corner Brook Pulp and Paper.
Hardest hit was Local 64 of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers union, which will lose 23 full-time jobs from its membership of about 160 employees in early March. Brian Quigley, that local’s president, hopes retirements will soften the blow and other affected workers will move into the casual pool.
He met with his members Wednesday evening and will be meeting with the company again Friday to further discuss the situation.
“I don’t think anyone is going through the gate right now,” Quigley said after Thursday’s meeting. “They will reassess the pool at the end of the summer and make adjustments then.”
The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers had 12 of its roughly 50 members informed that eight of them would be let go now and four later on.
CEP Local 242, which has 73 members, is losing six full-time positions from the paper machines. Those jobs will revert back to the casual pool, but president Bruce Randell is worried about the efficiency of newsprint production on the machines with less employees working full-time.
“We always say you can’t cut no more, but they always manage to find somewhere else to cut,” said Randell. “Every time they cut, it seems the efficiency of the machines goes down. One of these days, we’ll hit rock bottom.”
Quigley shared that concerned about the impact these moves could have on productivity.
“I thought we were cut to the bone now,” said Quigley. “I guess time will tell with this stuff and how much work will get done with less people on hand.”
The unions representing employees who do electrical, instrumentation and office work all lost one job each.
Randell noted that, since there is usually a ratio of 10 relief workers per 40 full-time workers — though that ratio is not applicable to all the jobs in the mill, the total number of jobs affected could be more like 48.
Fewer bodies, added Randell, could also raise safety issues in the mill.
The unions are not just concerned about the job hits they are taking.
They believe more work will now be contracted out instead of given to unionized workers.
“There has been a lot of work contracted out lately,” said Quigley. “This can only mean more if they are going to lay off in certain areas.”
Adding insult to injury, the unions have been told management personnel, who were not hit by this round of job cuts, recently received salary bonuses.
“That’s not going to go over well with our people,” said Randell.
He said the union does not have much recourse, despite being unhappy about the management bonuses.
“They have a right to pay their people what they want to pay,” he said. “We negotiate for our people. We don’t negotiate for their people.”
All of this comes at a time when the mill unions have been without a new collective agreement for nearly three years. In 2010, the unions essentially gave the company a loan in the form of a 10 per cent wage deferral the company promised to repay when the mill returns to profitability.
The unions are worried the company is not finished with its workforce adjustments as they head into contract negotiations.
“I’ve been at this a long time,” said Randell. “Every time we think they are at the bottom, they come back in and want more. I assume they will want more. It’s never enough, no matter what they’re making. If they decide to do away with a job, they’ll do away with a job.”
Stephane Rousseau, who took over the position of Corner Brook Pulp and Paper’s general manager in November 2010, has left that job since Christmas and his replacement is expected to be in place some time later this month. As per company policy, no one currently in the paper mill’s senior management, nor at Kruger’s head office in Montreal, would comment on Thursday’s developments on the labour front.
Natural Resources Minister Jerome Kennedy, speaking to the media in St. John’s Thursday, said he wasn’t really surprised by the developments at Corner Brook Pulp and Paper, based on the memo released by Kruger last week.
Kennedy said he had believed, however, that the mill owners and the union would be able to come together and agree on a means of labour reduction, to be put forward as some sort of sustainability plan.
“The mill and the union will hopefully be able to address these issues, come to an agreement and obviously reduce layoffs if there have to be layoffs, and ensure that some jobs can be eliminated through attrition,” said the minister.
The Western Star