Relief as Port Hawkesbury mill workers start making paper

The union representing workers at Port Hawkesbury Paper said workers are excited about getting back to work and feel a sense of relief now that the mill is up and running again.

260 workers head back to former NewPage mill this week

Clouds of steam billow from the Port Hawkesbury paper mill in Point Tupper. The mill hopes to produce paper early this week for the first time in about a year. (Wendy Martin/CBC)

There's a sense of relief in Cape Breton, N.S. as mill workers excitedly head back to work to make paper, says the union representing employees at Port Hawkesbury Paper.

The former NewPage mill shut down more than a year ago.

"I think there's been like a weight lifted from their shoulders," said Archie MacLachlan vice president of the Communications Energy and Paperworkers union local at the mill.

"The fact that the last number of days that we've seen pulp trucks coming into the mill and we haven't seen that in a long time heading this direction. I sense a public that's at ease now."

Some people weren't feeling that way last week when talks between the province and Pacific West, the mill's would-be owner, broke down. Then there was a reversal and a new deal was struck; Pacific West took control of the mill renaming it Port Hawkesbury Paper.

But the deal didn't come without costs including breaks on taxes, power and concessions from the union.

"The bad news is half of the people that were working there when it shut down are not coming back," said MacLachlan.

"That's a big impact on those lives and it effects the community, we have less people spending income here."

Despite the ups and downs MacLachlan said people are pleased to be going back to work and he's confident the mill can survive the current decline in the paper industry.

"We have a world class paper machine and this company here I think is well positioned to ride out the rough times in this downturn in the economy and we should be well positioned for the long term here."

About 260 workers are expected back at the mill by the end of this week.

In total Pacific West plans to hire 330 workers to run the mill.