Beyond the Headlines

"Some serious soul-searching"

Posted: Apr 16, 2012 8:48 AM ET Last Updated: Apr 16, 2012 8:48 AM ET
Update Tuesday 9:15pm: The unionized workforce has voted 85% to accept the new contract. The Stern Group now has to reach a deal on power rates with Nova Scotia Power, a deal that must be approved by the UARB, before the purchase of the mill is finalized.

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Picture this scenario: your new boss walks in and says there are going to be some changes at your workplace.
 
More than half of you will lose your jobs permanently. Those of you lucky enough to survive will have your wages frozen for the next ten years.
 
Your pension plan, which is underfunded by $130 million, will be terminated and sold off at a loss. That means older workers can basically throw their pension planning out the window, and your retired colleagues will see their income reduced by 25% to 40%.
 
Oh, and by the way: if you don't accept these terms, the company will be shutdown and its equipment sold offshore.
 
That is the scenario facing the 550 unionized workers at the bankrupt NewPage mill in Port Hawkesbury. The potential new owner, the Stern Group of Vancouver, made it very clear in its letter to employees that if the workers reject this new contract, it will walk away from the purchase.
 
On Sunday, the local executive of the Communication, Energy and Paperworkers union recommended the membership accept the deal, after the company made some last-minute concessions on seniority and the long-term viability of some of the remaining jobs.
 
The executive believes this is the best they are going to get from Stern, so it's either this deal or no deal.
 
The membership will vote today and Tuesday, but even though the stakes are high, a yes vote is not guaranteed. More than half of those who are eligible to vote, will be voting to cut their own jobs; those left will be voting to keep a job with no raises for 10 years, and a much smaller pension.
 
Last fall, workers at the Bowater mill faced a similar take-it-or-leave-it proposition. They were told unless they agreed to 80 unionized job cuts, and have their wages frozen for five years, their mill would close. They only got a 52% yes vote.
 
In Port Hawkesbury the stakes are even higher. The paper mill is the region's major employer.
 
The unionized workers know if they vote against the deal it's not just their jobs at stake. There are the loggers who supply the mill with its wood, the truckers who get the raw materials there, and the product out to customers, the mill's other suppliers, and the businesses who rely on all those workers to buy their goods and services.
 
Archie MacLachlan, the vice president of the local union, says the members have some "serious soul-seaching to do."
 
They certainly do.
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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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