Mill faces ‘big tough job ahead’

With the mill out of commission for five months, local manager Jim Gartshore said it will take some doing to get things back to where they were before the strike.
Still, paper could be running off one of the machines here by the end of today, with more machines coming on line later in the week.
Although the bulk of workers didn’t return to begin start-up procedures until yesterday, Gartshore said preparations to get the mill back on line began the day the results of the union’s ratification vote were released last week.
“We’ve started to seed the lagoon and that started last Thursday,” he noted. “We’ve had people in since the weekend running boilers, the powerhouse, that sort of thing.”
Gartshore said the atmosphere in the mill has been very positive in the aftermath of the strike, and that operations have been going well.
“[But] we’ve all got a big tough job ahead to get this mill rolling again,” he admitted. “We just want to get going again.”
The other big priority for the mill right now is winning back its customers who were forced to buy their paper from other sources over the last five months.
“We have certain sales groups associated with our mill and they’re out meeting our customers, talking to our customers,” Gartshore said. “I guess it’s anticipated some trips will be required by local mill management to visit customers.”
The strike, which had shut down 10 Abitibi mills in Ontario, Quebec, and Newfoundland since June 15, ended last Thursday when members of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers union voted 73 percent to ratify a six-year deal.
Expiring April 30, 2004, it offered an overall wage hike of two percent in each of years two, three, four, five, and six–plus a lump sum payment this year of $2,750.
But Cecil Makowski, CEP vice-president for Ontario, said last week the biggest benefit in the contract was the pension package the company agreed to. It offers a $4,700-a-year pension improvement for CEP members at the age of 58 after 30 years of working in the mill.
“Our number-one priority was pension and we negotiated a huge pension,” he said. “We’ve doubled the improvement in the pension plan from the last contract [offer]–I can safely say we more than doubled it.”
The new contract also calls for the continuous running of the mill 365 days a years–provided they get enough people to volunteer to work on Labour Day and Christmas.
“If the mill can’t get enough to volunteer, they have to shut down,” Makowski said. “And if an employee chooses to volunteer or stay on his schedule, then the compensation for that is huge–triple time plus standard holiday pay, plus another day off whenever they [and the company] can mutually come to an arrangement.
“The key to that provision is they have the right to opt out,” he stressed.
Abitibi president and CEO Jim Doughan agreed it was a “world-class competitive contract” that was fair to employees, customers, and shareholders of the company.