Nfld. & Labrador

Corner Brook mill unions keen to sit down with Kruger

A union leader at the Corner Brook Pulp and Paper mill is pleased Kruger is calling for a new collective agreement by June 15.

Pulp and paper company says agreement crucial by mid-June

A union leader at the Corner Brook Pulp and Paper mill is pleased Kruger is calling for a new collective agreement by June 15.

"We've been trying to get back to the table for three weeks. So, great, we're going back to the table," said Bruce Randell, president of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Local 242 at the mill.

He said workers are looking forward to sitting down with Kruger officials to see if they can save the operation because months of uncertainty have already hurt the mill.

"Every week we're losing people. The people are moving away. I mean, we're losing absolute total talent that we need to keep this mill running, and that's on the management side, too," said Randell.

Three more longtime employees are leaving this week to work elsewhere, he said.

The company says it's reassessing the mill's financial viability after workers rejected a company proposal to restructure their pensions.

Randell expects the company will demand concessions.

"I guess there's a fine line where workers' rights have to be taken care of and [owner] Mr. [Joseph] Kruger has to make money. When we sit down to negotiations, we'll try to get to that line," he said.

Randell believes it’s possible to reach an agreement within 10 days.

Yesterday, in a letter to workers, Kruger said the future of the mill will come down to a new deal and the support of the workers.

"The first step to go forward will be to obtain a firm commitment from employees by achieving a satisfactory agreement that will allow (the mill) to be competitive in the market," said the statement.

"Given the critical situation of the mill, this collective agreement will have to be reached by June 15 so that we can quickly move on to the next crucial step, which will be to submit the pension plan funding relief measures to a second vote and hopefully be able to apply them before the mill’s situation deteriorates any further."

Kruger said "only after those two steps are completed will we be able to finalize our assessment of the mill’s viability, knowing that we have the support and commitment of all our employees."

Unionized workers voted against a plan that would have allowed Kruger 10 years, instead of five, to restructure liabilities in its pension plans.

Although retired union members voted in favour of the plan — as did non-unionized employees — the unionized workforce turned it down.

Kruger said Newfoundland and Labrador law requires support from at least two thirds of the members of each of the four voting groups.

Kruger said 326 members of the active unionized workforce, or 54.3 per cent, voted against the pension plan.