Published Chronicle Herald
By Brett Bundale
Paper mill workers’ unions vow to stand up against ‘job blackmail’. In an industry marred by pink slips, mill shutdowns and production cuts, a group of forestry workers is banding together against “job blackmail.” Resolute Forest Products Inc. mill workers say the company has pitted paper mills on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border against each other to offset soaring costs and overcapacity in the industry. “We reject absolutely any form of contrived intimidation between workers and mills,” the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union and United Steelworkers members said in a joint statement after a two-day meeting in Montreal.
“We insist that the company respect our bargaining caucuses, our pattern agreements, and end any form of job blackmail between the local unions.”
The meeting comes after workers at Resolute’s Bowater Mersey Paper Co. mill in Brooklyn, Queens County, agreed to a long list of concessions. Faced with the mill’s looming closure, the union voted in favour of concessions that would slash 80 positions from the 300-member workforce and freeze wages. “They would go to one mill and say, ‘If you don’t do x-y-z, you’re down,’ and then they would go to the next mill and say the same thing,” Dave Coles, CEP national president, said Monday. “So we decided to get the boys together, north and south, and get a report from each local on what was transpiring with the company in each local union.”
Mill workers from 10 mills in Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia and four mills in Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Alabama met and adopted a solidarity pledge to work together toward 2014 negotiations. “Sooner or later, we’ll go to the bargaining table and we’ll be speaking with a stronger voice than we have before,” Coles said. United Steelworkers vice-president Jon Geenen said, “Resolute is on notice that American and Canadian workers will not compete against each other. “We have decided instead to make sure that we are informed and co-ordinated across the border and local-to-local about how this company is treating workers and communities.” Despite worker concessions, a break on power rates and property taxes, and a $50-million package from the provincial government, Bowater Mersey will still be idled for two weeks over the holidays. Citing weak market conditions, the company said the mill will close from Saturday through Jan. 9, said Jim Peach, acting president of CEP Local 141.
Although mills often shut down temporarily this time of year, Peach said a two-week shutdown is “not normal.” “The newsprint industry is in trouble, there’s no two ways about it,” he said. “We all understand it’s hard times. They say the shutdown is because of market conditions.” Peach said a number of workers will take vacation during the two-week period, while others will restart employment insurance benefits or begin a new claim.
Company spokesman Pierre Choquette said the shutdown would reduce the mill’s production by 10,000 tonnes of newsprint. He said temporary closures, which are also affecting mills in Quebec, Ontario and the U.S., have become more common in the last few years because market conditions are tougher. “The economy is still slow in a general way,” he said. “We’re monitoring what the market is doing and we have no choice but to adjust.” Choquette said Resolute did not have any comment on the workers meeting in Montreal.
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