© Western Star file photo
The Corner Brook Pulp and Paper mill.
Corner Brook - When you're pushed into corner eventually something is going to happen.
That's why, Ed Anstey said, he thinks unionized workers at Corner Brook Pulp and Paper turned down the company's pension proposal.
Kruger Inc., the mill's parent company, had gone to employees and retirees asking for an extra five years to fund the roughly 30 per cent unfunded portion of their pension plan.
On Friday the company announced unionized workers at the mill turned down the proposal. Of the 326 members, 177 said no. The other three groups affected - retired union members, and active and retired non-union employees - endorsed the plan. But according to law it could not be opposed by more than one-third of the members in each group (active and retirees.)
Anstey is a former president of Local 64 of the Communication, Energy and Paperworkers' union and is a member of the Corner Brook Pulp and Paper Union Pensioners Committee.
"It's probably long overdue that they took a stand," said Anstey of the rejection.
"Somewhere along the line you've just got to do it. You can only give up so long and sit back and say we'll hope for better times."
Anstey said the retirees seemed to feel that for the long-term benefit of the plan it would be good to let the proposal got through.
Whereas, he said, at the mill there's a lot of hard feelings and it's the company's own fault that the proposal was rejected.
He said the company is not doing anything to change those hard feelings.
"In fact, it's almost like they're pushing people to try to turn it down. It seems like everything they can do to stir up trouble with the members down there, they're doing it."
The latest stir up occurred just days before the deadline to vote on the proposal, when union members discovered a change in the pension formula could see anyone retiring after 2014 lose 25 per cent of their pension.
That's something Gerald Parsons said should have been revealed earlier.
Parsons is the chairman of the pensioners committee, but on Friday he said his comments were not being made on behalf of the committee.
"Somebody dropped the ball on this," said Parsons, adding he questioned changes to the pension formula eight weeks ago and never got an answer.
"It's a mess because I honestly think that Mr. Kruger could have got that."
Parsons said pensioners were in support of it and so were many workers. And he doesn't think that it's a closed door.
"I'm pretty well sure that this would get passed if they would come back and do the right things there."
Parsons also said comments by the company and the province directed at Local 242 union president Bruce Randell earlier this week were not fair.
"Government and the company should not have blamed Bruce Randell for this," said Parsons.
"Bruce Randell is only the president of a local that's telling his members what's coming down. He's got to be honest with his members.
"I think Bruce did his job. The government and the company I don't think did their job," said Parsons.
"If that mill shuts tomorrow morning you can't blame it on the union people in the mill. I support the boys 100 per cent on what they've done."
Meanwhile, Anstey said if the company really wanted the proposal to go through then it would have put the workers and retirees all in one group.
"And that way was pretty sure that the retirees would have pushed it through anyway. It's almost like they're pushing the unions into something," he said.
"As a retiree and a person that worked down there all their life, I can say right now that they don't need to be treating people like they're doing."
As for what the rejection will mean for retirees, Anstey said that's something that isn't really known right now.
"The feelings we got is whatever happens we really probably won't have a lot of control over it in the long run."
If the mill continues to operate they will continue to receive their pensions as is, but if it shuts, they could very well be facing a reduction.
"Regardless of if I do lose 30 per cent of my pension, I won't live as comfortable, but I'll still live and therefore I'll back the boys in the mill for whatever they get," said Anstey.
"I can understand them and I would back them all the way even though deep down I know that it's going to affect my standard of living down the road. If that happens, it happens and I'll just have to live with that."
Anstey believes a lot of retirees feel the same.
"When we negotiated that pension years ago we didn't just negotiate it for us. We felt that that would go on to the generations coming behind us, because it was a better pension than we had before."
In the news release issued by the company Friday morning, Kruger said it would reassess the viability of the Corner Brook mill.
Anstey said there's no reason why the mill would not be deemed viable.
"Everything points to a good reason why that mill should run," said Anstey, who noted the close source of wood, the source of power and the dock at the facility.
He said everyone knows the conditions of the industry are not great and that mills are going to close.
"But this should be the last one."