Nfld. & Labrador

Corner Brook mill workers face June 15 deadline

Workers at the Corner Brook paper mill are now facing a deadline after Kruger released a statement saying an agreement between them and the company must be reached by mid-June.

Future of operation remains unclear after premier's meeting with Kruger

Kruger Inc. says it is reviewing the viability of Corner Brook Pulp and Paper, the only remaining newsprint mill in Newfoundland and Labrador. (CBC )

Workers at the Corner Brook paper mill are now facing a deadline after Kruger released a statement saying an agreement between them and the company must be reached by mid-June.

The company says 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 committment from employees by achieving a satisfactory agreement that will allow CBPPL to be competitive in the market," said the Kruger 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 that "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."

The company said it is contacting the workers representatives and hopes to begin talks soon.

Earlier Tuesday, a union leader said he fears many people could lose their livelihoods after a meeting between Premier Kathy Dunderdale and Corner Brook pulp and paper mill owner Joseph Kruger did nothing to secure the mill's future Monday.

"I personally have more at stake than just about everybody out there. That means [owner] Joe Kruger himself, the government, that's my livelihood," said Bruce Randell, president of Communications, Energy and Paperworkers (CEP) union Local 242.

He said workers voted against Kruger's latest proposal to save the mill, after discovering a clause that could see their pensions cut.

Randell defended the vote.

"I'm not the person here who wants to shut that mill down. I think I am a level-headed guy and I just want to do the best for the people that are working in the mill in order to make sure that the mill continues to operate," he said.

Randell said if the rules were changed to protect the value of their pensions, workers would be interested in a second vote on a repayment extension.

Government faces questions on mill

In the house of assembly on Tuesday, the government faced questions about its efforts to save the Corner Brook mill.

The Liberals said the mill's future needs to be resolved quickly, while NDP leader Lorraine Michael sparked outcry by accusing the government of doing nothing.

Natural Resources Minister Jerome Kennedy called Michael's remarks "shameful".

"This is not a time for grandstanding," said Kennedy. "This is not a time for the NDP to trying to show they are the union's friend."

Second vote expected, says premier

After her meeting Monday with Kruger, Dunderdale said she expects there will be a second vote on the pension restructuring plan.

Kruger said in mid-May that it was reviewing whether it could keep Corner Brook Pulp and Paper running after unionized workers turned down a pension-restructuring proposal.

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 lack of support from the unionized workforce has triggered the decision.

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.

In a statement in May, Kruger senior vice-president Jean Majeau said the company was "disappointed with this outcome, especially considering the countless efforts that were put in over the last few weeks to communicate with plan members to seek their support."