Local mill workers to vote on deal Friday

Local members will be voting Friday on the tentative deal reached last Wednesday between the Communications, Energy and Papermakers Union of Canada and Abitibi-Consolidated.
“We were relieved to get a contract,” said Thor Cox, president of CEP Local 92.
“I think the whole town’s relieved. Nobody wants to see a strike,” he added. “We felt we did okay [with the new contract] given the state of the paper industry.”
CEP Local 92 members will be voting on the tentative agreement at one of two meetings (slated for 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.) this Friday at the Legion.
Gord Bell, president of CEP Local 306, confirmed their membership also would be voting Friday, but declined to comment further until the deal was ratified.
The previous contract expired April 30, which has meant that for the past couple of months, some mill workers and their families have been waiting to make any major purchases at local businesses.
Alan Tibbetts, president of the Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce, said he let out a sigh of relief when he got wind of the tentative deal.
“From the point of view of the Chamber of Commerce, it’s definitely a good thing,” he remarked.
“I’ve heard from a few retailers that there has been some reluctance on the part of some people to make purchases because they didn’t know if there was going to be a strike.
“It’s a five-year deal, so that’ll be great for anybody deciding to purchase a car or something like that, where there’s some commitment,” added Tibbetts. “I think a lot of people can feel like they can go ahead with their lives again.”
“It’s absolutely wonderful,” agreed Peter Badiuk of Badiuk Equipment here, who admitted business was a little slow this spring. News of a tentative contract hopefully means sales will pick up.
“But we’ve got lots of problems, whether it’s BSE [affecting farm equipment sales], the low U.S. dollar, the mill thing,” he remarked.
“I’ve talked to lots of people who have noticed business has been slow. It’s tough to say how much is due to that [the lack of a contract].
“Until recently, even the weather hasn’t been that good, and that affects business, too. It’s hard to know,” he added.
As reported in last Thursday’s Daily Bulletin, the CEP reached the tentative agreement very early Wednesday morning after a several weeks of negotiating.
The five-year agreement covers some 4,500 workers in Ontario, Quebec, and Newfoundland, and also is expected to serve as a pattern for talks affecting 30,000 pulp and paper workers elsewhere in Canada.
CEP president and chief negotiator Brian Payne said in a statement released last Wednesday that the union not only fought back a company demand to introduce a defined contribution pension plan, but negotiated improvements to the existing defined benefit plan.
If the deal is ratified, the pension benefit formula will see successive increases in 2005 and 2009.
The tentative settlement also includes wage increases totalling 11 percent over its term and major improvements in group benefit plans such as dental, drugs, paramedical services, vision care, life insurance, and health care.
Job security provisions have been renewed and language protecting CEP members from losing employment due to contracting out of work also has been strengthened.
The proposed settlement also has a provision for five weeks’ vacation after 17 years of service.
(Fort Frances Times)