Mill keeping vague on staff layoffs

With the Abitibi-Consolidated mill here seeing employees laid off last week and this week as part of a corporate-wide reorganization process, it’s still unknown exactly how many people have been affected by the revamping.
“We just talked to people on Thursday and talked to people this week again, too, because we had another little side process going on. We’re just about finished all that,” regional manager Doug Murray said Tuesday afternoon.
“But I think it would be inappropriate or hurtful to those involved in this to say everything is great or not so great,” he added.
“[Abitibi corporate affairs director] Denis [Leclerc] said it right—we’re going through this as part of a corporate initiative and also part of a local initiative to derive profitability and to do things differently,” continued Murray.
“If we don’t do something different, we could have serious consequences to the community as a whole,” he stressed. “Our whole goal is to make sure we’re here 100 years from now.”
Murray wouldn’t say how many jobs were affected by the restructuring.
“The dangerous thing about saying ‘x’ number is not everybody left on Thursday,” he explained. “Some people are here until the end of the month, some people are here until September, some people are here until the end of the year.
“It all depended on where they were, and where they were in our need basis.
“It’s inappropriate to say the number is this,” he added. “It’s a significant number. Any number is significant when you’re laying people off. It’s tough no matter how you do it.
“We’ve never talked to people here and left a note that said ‘x, x, x.’ At the end of the year, it’s going to be a certain percentage and that’s about what it is,” Murray said.
“The corporate part of the stuff still has to come down the pipe yet, too.”
Murray declined to discuss details about the restructuring, but said it may involve either combining departments at the mill here or more efficiently doing things between the mill here and in Fort William.
As far as more staffing changes happening later this year, Murray said “change is always happening.”
“Economic conditions are the way they are. We have to start looking at turning a profit in Fort Frances,” he stressed. “That’s not a threat to anybody. We’ll see what happens.”
Leclerc had confirmed late Friday that similar layoffs are taking place in all of Abitibi’s operations.
He added the reorganization process is a continuation of the in-depth review of its operations on the production side which began in January, 2005.
That review led to the closure of several mills, including Kenora, Stephenville, and Sheldon, and initiated the sales process of the Fort William mill.
“In the fall, we started an in-depth review of all the support functions—administrative, clerical, and sales,” Leclerc noted Friday.
“And we’re doing that across the organization, at the head office and at each operation,” he said, adding the whole process won’t be finalized for at least a few weeks, if not several months.
Leclerc said the company has two major objectives in this reorganization process: to reduce costs on a global basis and “to increase efficiencies by assuring best practices and creating synergies.”
“There will be jobs eliminated,” he acknowledged. “Since you’re merging jobs sometimes, you’ll have one person too many. It’s part of the initiative.
“That’s why we have to meet with the people and make sure we’re doing it the best way possible,” he remarked.
“Since it’s a process, it’s difficult to know how many people will be affected,” Leclerc added. “It’s on an ongoing basis. But we can say what we’re trying to do overall is reduce our costs by 20 percent.
“However, 20 percent costs is not 20 percent people. It depends,” he stressed. “That’s why it’s difficult to say how many people will be affected by this reorganization of administrative, managerial, and sales functions.”
Leclerc said “every mill, including head office, including the sales office, every location, every business unit will have to contribute to this new reality.
“We’ve done it with production. You have to align your support functions respectively, so that’s what we’re doing,” he explained.
In related news, Leclerc said the Fort Frances mill is facing a major issue with its co-gen facility, which is using expensive natural gas to run.
As such, the company currently is investigating using biomass to run a “hog fuel boiler” here.
“We hope that we’ll find a viable long-term solution for the mill,” noted Leclerc. “We want to make sure that this mill gets back to profitability.”