Nova Scotia

Bowater mill workers look for new jobs

People in the Liverpool area are reeling from the news that the Bowater Mersey Paper Co. Ltd. mill may close by the end of the year, and many employees are beginning to look for new jobs.
The Bowater Mersey pulp and paper mill may close at the end of the month. (CBC)

People in the Liverpool area are reeling from the news that the Bowater Mersey Paper Co. Ltd. mill may close by the end of the year, and many employees are beginning to look for new jobs.

Parent company, AbitibiBowater, announced that the Brooklyn pulp and paper mill's manufacturing, electricity and labour costs have become too expensive and the mill is not competitive.

Phillip Anthony, who has been a welder at the mill for 23 years, said he is considering looking for a new job right away. Seven people left the mill last week to look for new jobs, he said.

"It doesn't look good down there. They've been doing cutbacks, roll backs in wages, going down in certain periods of the year," Anthony said Thursday.

"A lot of people now are bailing. They're worried about what's going to happen. Everybody is worried about what's going to happen, not just the people at Bowater, but the community. If something happens, it's going to be devastating…It's going to be a retirement place."

Two years ago, he said, he turned down a job offer at the Halifax Shipyard. He now regrets that decision.

Phillip Anthony has worked at Bowater Mersey for 23 years. ((CBC))
Anthony, 49, said he had been hoping to retire from the mill. Now he is going to investigate whether he can get a job either at Halifax Shipyard or the Shelburne Ship Repair yard.

"I've got to do something. I've got to pay the bills. I'm going to have to go somewhere. So, I may as well open the doors and see what's out there," he said.

Courtney Wentzell, president of the local union, said 175 workers have already taken a 22 per cent wage cut in the last two years to help the mill stay competitive.

Wentzell, who has worked at the mill for 26 years, said there's no reason it cannot continue to operate.

"There's no reason why that can't make money. It should be making money. It's got a nice free port, it's got cheap transportation costs. I always try to be optimistic that way, but in today's multi-global national corporations and the takeovers and the greed," he said.

" I know that mill can make money and I know it should be here for a while longer."

A forestry analyst said declining demand for newsprint across North America may be the biggest factor in AbitibiBowater's decision to put the Brooklyn mill on notice.

Paul Quinn, of RBC Securities, said the parent company must choose which of its two dozen mills to keep open when there aren't enough orders to keep them all busy.

"I think it's a case where North American demand year-to-date is down seven per cent. It seems like that's accelerating a bit with the softness in the economy," Quinn said.

"I mean, the issue is the market's shrinking and therefore production has got to shrink."

Quinn said the Bowater mill is one of the more expensive operations.

Premier Darrell Dexter called an emergency meeting for all stakeholders Wednesday in Liverpool. Representatives from the mill, union leaders and lumber producers were among those invited to begin the process of figuring out who is willing to give up what to keep the mill open.

About 2,000 people along the province's South Shore would be affected if the mill closes, the premier said.

Abitibi is looking at re-opening its Gatineau mill in Quebec. It's negotiating with Hydró-Quebec for a power discount.

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