Beyond the Headlines

Strait pressure

Posted: Mar 12, 2012 11:14 AM ET Last Updated: Mar 12, 2012 11:14 AM ET

While Metro Transit drivers and Dal profs spent the weekend hammering out the differences with their employers, another weekend bargaining session barely caught anyone's eye.

But it's one that will impact hundreds of families in the Strait region.

The union representing the more than 500 workers at the now closed NewPage paper mill gathered at a hotel in New Glasgow to meet with Ron Stern. Stern is the man behind, Pacific West Commercial Corp, the company chosen by the court-appointed monitor as the final bidder for the Port Hawkesbury operation.

When this process started, Stern told the union his first priority was to negotiate cheaper electricity rates with Nova Scotia Power. Meeting with the union now, suggests he either has that deal or is very close to finalizing one.

So now the pressure is all on the union.

They go into these talks knowing almost half their colleagues will lose their jobs. That's because Stern has said he plans to operate only one of the two paper-making machines.

They are facing cuts to their pension. When Newpage went bankrupt the pension plan was underfunded by $140 million, so employees stand to see their pensions cut anywhere from 25% to 40%. And going into the negotations the union fully expected a demand for wage concessions.

On the surface it looks like the union doesn't have much to bargain with. It's either take the deal or lose their jobs. But there is the feeling among some members, that if the only offer is job cuts, wage cuts and their pension decimated, they might just say 'the hell with it',  vote against any new deal, and head west to chase big money in the oilsands.

That would be devastating for the dozens of independent truckers and loggers who supply the mill, for their families, and for the businesses where they spend their pay cheques.

If they can't reach a deal, Ron Stern will simply walk away and set his sights on the next business opportunity. But for many former NewPage employees, it would mean leaving their homes and turning their backs on their community.

That's a heavy burden to bear. 
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About the Author

Brian DuBreuil is a veteran journalist with CBC News. He has won two Gemini awards for his work, and neither involved dancing or singing on a reality show.

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