Skilled workers reject Kruger’s offer

Gary Kean
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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

Organizations: International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, La Presse, CEP

Geographic location: Trois-Rivieres, Corner Brook, Quebec North America Montreal Western Star

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Recent comments

  • Tim Jamison
    June 21, 2012 - 16:20

    Foot, meet gun barrel. Corner Brook, meet economic depression. Corner Brook residents, welcome to St. John's!

    • a business man
      June 22, 2012 - 06:13

      And while all this happens, life simply goes on for the rest of us. Frankly, this is a cornerbrook problem, not a NL problem. The NL economy is fine, our dollar is still high, and property values are going up. Sure it must suck cornerbrooker now, but for the majority of NL citizens, today is a good day.

    • Jim Jamison
      June 22, 2012 - 11:31

      This is true, Business Man. Their failures are not my concern and St. John's needs more skilled workers anyway.

  • gary
    June 21, 2012 - 15:03

    Too bad for Corner Brook !!! looks like the greed of these people will cause the closure of another major employer here in Newfoundland... Time will tell when the locks will be put on the doors !!! I agree with DARLS on this one... You are your own worst enemy !!!

  • saelcove
    June 21, 2012 - 14:38

    the same bunch who spend most of their day sitting around playing games

  • Dave
    June 21, 2012 - 13:18

    Reality simply hasn't set in especially in Quebec with the union sector. But of course it will be the greedy company's fault when this mill is shut down because it's no longer competitive. I find it quite perplexing that when a corporation makes a responsible decision based on sound economic criteria, they are considered greedy and poor corporate citizens. Is going bankrupt a better option?

  • Edmund
    June 21, 2012 - 09:40

    Like mom used to say "Much wants more but often gets less". I agree with DARLS, good luck in your next carreer, if you can find one. Outside the oil & gas industry this provibce is in seriuos trouble with gainful employment in the general business and lobour markets, especially for mature workers. Like myself, many highly skilled displaced workers are applying unsucessfully for work (some up to 2 years and counting) that they are sometimes more than qualified to do but either they do not have the exact training, too old (60+) etc. etc. I guess all of us are not so fortunate that we can just up and leave our families and homes to go to Alberta and elsewhere to chase the big money. To sacrifice all that when you are in a position to accept a very good living and stay home amazes me. Don't forget boys, the unions are not getting any poorer. You should ask to see their profits, that they get from your dues, blood sweat and tears, it will shock you. Don't be so greedy, accept the offer and put your families and community before the greedy unions unless you are so afraid of them that you have decided to give up your personal pride and let them control you. It is tough times out there so adjust and move on.

  • newtsmitt
    June 21, 2012 - 09:33

    The ones that voted so far will find it easy to find work, it is too bad people like DARL$ criticize people like the tradespeople in Corner Brook (that are in the know) and suggest that he know's that was the best option, I am sure if he is not in management he is in a very poor paying job since it is obvious he would just bend over if the wind blows for the right person as long as they were paying him. What Kruger is doing here is jumping on a band wagon of cuts in this industry, not just trying to cut costs.

    • a business man
      June 22, 2012 - 06:17

      There is nothing wrong with Kruger "jumping on the band wagon of cuts in the industry". If your competitors cuts workers and plants, you have to as well just to stay competitive. Making a profit is not the only objective; rather a successful company needs to make the best product at the lowest price and dominate the market. This means running your competitors out of business and taking their market share. So in that vein, the closure of cornerbrook may lead to some trickle down profits from my investment portfolio. To me, that is a good outcome.

  • darls
    June 21, 2012 - 07:30

    WELCOME TO THE UNEMPLOYED BOYS....and remember you caused this not the owner...he gave you a best option and you blew it....good luck with your next career...cheers