Corner Brook — Work being contracted out at Corner Brook Pulp and Paper is not a new thing.
But when it’s done at the expense of permanent employees, there’s only so much labour unions are going to put up with.
That frustration bubbled over in a public way at dawn Tuesday as more than 50 unionized workers gathered before the morning shift change to protest the current amount of contracted work at the mill.
Tuesday morning was chosen because there was a scheduled shutdown of operations for an electrical upgrade.
While it’s normal for contractors to come in to do specific work, such as the electrical upgrade, the unions were upset with the company bringing in contractors to do other, mechanical work that can only be done while the paper machines are idle.
“We’re not talking about specialized work or anything,” said Alfie Gosse, a labourer with Local 64 of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers’ union.
“We’re talking jobs that were done by the unions for 50 or 60 years,” Gosse said.
No one was hindered from passing through the mill gates, even though the protesting workers were gathered at the mill’s main gate on the Lewin Parkway and at its east gate near Corner Brook port facilities.
Still, the tension was palpable.
“Taking one guy out of the mill and then bringing in another guy in his place is not right,” said an upset Bill Marks, a mechanical department employee among the workers on the east gate.
“That’s discrimination to me. We have fellows who are home right now who should be in here working.”
Back with the larger crowd at the main gate, Gosse said the company has cut most of the union memberships to the bone.
“The company’s excuse for contracting out is they haven’t got the manpower to do it,” said Gosse. “But, the reason they don’t have the manpower to do it is they are after laying off every Tom, Dick and Harry over the years.”
Lack of workers isn’t the only problem in the mill. In the last few weeks, several key employees in both the unions and in management have either resigned and left Corner Brook or have tendered notices of resignation.
Sources have told The Western Star that, in the last few weeks, the mill has lost or is about to lose two engineers, its human resources manager and acting human resources manager, two electrical foremen, two electricians, an instrumentation technologist and a millwright.
Ross Edison is president of Local 1567 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which saw a dozen of its 50 members get handed pink slips when Corner Brook Pulp and Paper laid off nearly 50 workers in early February.
He is worried about the snowball effect created by the voluntary departure of key employees.
“You start losing some quality, key people and then other people start seeing that maybe the future is not here for them,” said Edison. “It’s rather unfortunate because we need these highly skilled people in those positions to make this a more efficient mill.”
Unions at Corner Brook Pulp and Paper have been working without new collective agreements, which expired three years ago. Edison hopes new contracts will be worked out soon and some of these contentious labour issues will be dealt with in the process.
Corner Brook Pulp and Paper and its parent company, Kruger, declined to comment on Tuesday’s protest by the unions.
The Western Star