A smaller than normal woodpile at Corner Brook Pulp and Paper mill Sunday. — Photo by Geraldine Brophy/The Western Star
Kruger may want its employees to accept a labour contract modelled after the company’s main competitor, but the first union to cast votes seems to have instead followed the lead of fellow members at their employer’s mill in Trois-Rivieres, Que.
Local 1567 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which represents nearly 40 skilled trades workers such as millwrights and machinists at Corner Brook Pulp and Paper, was the first of the mill’s unions to vote on the contract offer given to them by Kruger last Friday.
Ross Edison, Local 1567’s president, issued a prepared statement shortly after the vote early Wednesday evening, announcing the majority of the local’s members had rejected the contract offer. He said it was a difficult decision, but they couldn’t accept the level of concessions, nor the changes to the pension and contract language.
Local 1567 saw 25 per cent of its membership slashed with a dozen layoffs in early February. Edison said another 10 per cent of his members have left the mill for better working conditions elsewhere since then.
“This decision is neither a vote against maintaining the mill, nor does it show a lack of support to pensioners or local businesses,” read Edison’s statement.
“Our position is to negotiate a fair contract with the company to ensure the long-term viability and competitiveness of the mill. This will be necessary to return the mill to profitability and stem the flow of outmigration of tradesmen.”
About five weeks ago, skilled trades workers and operators at Kruger’s paper mill in Trois-Rivieres rejected the company’s offer to them. That contract would have seen a 10 per cent wage cut.
Last week, Kruger sent its employees at the Quebec mill a letter. According to Le Nouvelliste — La Presse’s newspaper in Trois-Rivieres, the letter stated the company would not budge on its request for them to accept concessions. The company said the Quebec mill’s survival depended on acceptance of the collective agreement.
There have been no further talks at that mill since the end of May, according to the paper.
In Corner Brook, Kruger issued a letter to its workers earlier this week, urging them to accept the offers before them or the future of the mill would be jeopardized. Kruger said it also requires approval of funding relief measures for its pension plan, which the unions in Corner Brook rejected last month.
If those two steps can be made, Kruger said it must then present a sustainability plan for the future of the Corner Brook mill to its lenders.
In the letter, Kruger said concessions on wages have to be part of a new collective agreement in Corner Brook.
Edison said labour costs are only one factor and indications are that the Corner Brook mill is one of the lowest cash-per-tonne producers of newsprint in North America.
The union president added that newsprint at Corner Brook Pulp and Paper is produced for half the cost at “one of Kruger’s other mills in Quebec.”
Local 1567 said it is still committed to working with the company
to find solutions to the challenges facing Corner Brook Pulp and Paper.
“The larger issue facing the mill’s viability is a need for an infusion of capital money in the mill, which is where the government’s assistance will be most needed,” said Edison. “This will undoubtedly lead to lower labour costs and increased efficiency.”
Like the skilled trades union in Trois-Rivieres, the other unions at Corner Brook Pulp and Paper are represented by the CEP. They are set to vote on their respective contract offers today and Friday, the deadline Kruger has given them to accept the offer.
Local union executive members have been tight-lipped about their contract offers before voting is done and there was no word Wednesday night how the IAMAW’s rejection would affect voting by other locals.
Kruger’s head office in Montreal declined to comment about the rejection of the skilled trades union contract Wednesday night.
The Western Star