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Union questions the lack of notice and meaningful conversations

Written by Don Bodger, from the Chemainus Valley Courier, August 29, 2023

The curtailment at the Paper Excellence Catalyst Crofton pulp and paper mill has been extended into a third month.

“We’re saddened to have to announce that we’re having to extend the Crofton curtailment till the end of September,” said Graham Kissack, vice-president of environment, health, safety and communications for Paper Excellence Canada. “That’s for all operations – the kraft mill as well as the paper mill.

“We’re watching the market very closely. Global prices for pulp and paper, they are absolutely in the tank.”

Kissack said employees were notified on Monday that they would not be returning to work at the end of August.

“It’s tough on everybody, especially some of our employees who are now without work,” he conceded. “We appreciate all the good efforts they make. This decision to remain curtailed is not a reflection of their hard work.”

Nearly 400 employees from the Public and Private Workers of Canada Local 2 plus around 60 from Unifor Local 1132 are affected.

Kissack said a significant weakness in the market in China is having the biggest impact.

“We’re hoping the market has reached the bottom and will start to recover,” he added.

The plan now is to start up the mill at the end of September, but “it’s contingent upon the recovery of the market prices,” noted Kissack.

“You can’t operate and lose money day in and day out.”

“It’s very disappointing,” said Geoff Dawe, president of PPWC Local 2, of the extended curtailment. “With the 400 members we have, that’s 400 families. That’s a community that’s not getting very much information from the company. We’re getting three days’ notice that we’re going to be down.

“They’re waiting around to see what’s going on. There’s been no meaningful conversations as to why with the unions.

“We were told it was going to be one month. Now, we’re into three months. Each time we’ve had days notice and no real conversation with the company at the time leading up to it for the members to prepare a path forward for the next little bit. People want to be able to plan. How fair is it for a member to go out and get another job? I do know people have quit. How can you blame them?”

“Unifor is very concerned with the third curtailment extension in as many months by Paper Excellence,” Tanner McQuarrie, Unifor Local 1132 president, added in a statement. “Earlier in the year there was a 50 million dollar commitment between Paper Excellence and both the Federal and Provincial Governments. This is extremely difficult for our members and their families. When the investment was made in January, members that had been considering relocating or finding other jobs changed their minds and believed they would be able to remain at the Crofton mill.

“We need a solid commitment from Paper Excellence to work with the union and invest in the Crofton mill providing good paying jobs for our members and the community for the foreseeable future. We have a young committed workforce that believes in forestry in this province. We are hopeful that the proper decisions will be made as Crofton has the infrastructure and potential to be a successful plant for decades to come.”

Dawe said the supervisory staff of about 135 has continued to work during the curtailments.

“I’m frustrated with the process and what’s going on right now. They seem to have a plan. I don’t know if we’re included in that or not. I have no official word from the company of what they are or are not doing.”

Dawe wonders why other similar operations are running if there’s an economical issue with fibre.

Paper Excellence originally announced in May it would temporarily curtail the Crofton facility from June 30 until July 31. A second month-long curtailment was announced lasting until the end of August and now the best-case scenario for restarting the mill is Sept. 30.

In January, the federal government contributed $14.3 million and the province $4.5M for a combined $18.8M along with a Paper Excellence investment of $50M to restart paper operations at Crofton. That partnership allowed for the return of 100 jobs to the Crofton Catalyst pulp mill.

The mill announced it was retooling to manufacture new pulp products that reduce the need for single-use plastics.

With the nearly $20M boost, “where’s the accountability on that?” questioned Dawe.

The union has been in contact with Minister of Jobs, Economic Development and Innovation Brenda Bailey and Nanaimo-North Cowichan MLA Doug Routley, who were at the press conference at the mill in January when the funding was announced, to bring them up-to-date on the situation at Crofton.

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