The national president of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP) says he’s recommending members at Corner Brook Pulp and Paper Ltd. vote to accept the parent company’s 11th-hour offer.
Dave Coles told The Telegram Sunday night that he’s probably going to be unpopular for his recommendation — but said to reject the offer is to risk the death of the mill.
“The company is not playing BS poker. I’ve spoken personally with Mr. Kruger and I’ve spoken personally with the Premier. This is a real serious issue,” said Coles.
“There is a very real possibility that if they reject it, that mill will close very quickly, and who knows what the consequences will be,” he said.
“The devastation, not just to Newfoundland, but particularly Corner Brook, with the closure of that mill — it spins off in all directions.”
Coles deferred questions about the specifics of the company’s offer, but The Telegram could obtain details in time for Sunday night’s deadline.
He also criticized the local union for not taking a stronger leadership role on this decision. The local union has not, to date, given a recommendation on this vote to workers.
“The local unions couldn’t bring themselves to make a recommendation on it. And I don’t get elected president not to lead. So they made decision as to why they don’t want to lead, but I am,” he said.
CEP is expected to make a formal announcement sometime Monday morning.
The union and Kruger Inc. (the mill’s parent company) had been in negotiations until late Friday night. Workers at the mill have been without a contract for three years.
Kruger had set a deadline for negotiations of Friday at midnight. About a half hour before that deadline the company tabled its final offer and walked away from the table.
It issued a release the next day saying the fate of the mill was now in the hands of its workers. It also extended its deadline to June 22nd to allow membership time to consider and vote on the offer.
Premier Kathy Dunderdale also issued a press release Saturday expressing her concern for the situation.
“I strongly encourage both the company and the unions to continue to work through these matters. We all have the same goal here — that Corner Brook Pulp and Paper remain a key employer and driver of economic growth for the western region and our province,” wrote Dunderdale.
Kruger had said it wanted a new collective agreement by Friday night or the future of the mill would be uncertain.
It also wants the unions to grant the company a five-year extension to repay the unfunded portion of their pension plan.
The unions rejected the company’s pension request last month.
After that vote, the company started calling the future of the plant into question. The province agreed to allow the issue to be reopened but Kruger stated it wanted a collective agreement first.
Around mid-afternoon Friday, the other union at the table, which represents millwrights and skilled trades workers gave their final counter-proposal to the company and left the hotel. The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW) anticipated hearing back from the company later in the evening.
Rick Arsenault, the IAMAW’s special representative, said his union came a long way” since negotiations began, but there is only so much the skilled trades workers were willing to give.
“The group I represent are certified tradesmen and there is a great demand in North America for tradesmen, so this group needs to be taken care of ... to keep this mill going,” he said. “If they want to compete with tradesmen in North America, we gave them a fair offer to do that.”
There was no word as of deadline on Sunday how that offer had been received.
CEP members will vote on Kruger’s offer sometime later this week.
with files from The Western Star