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The British Columbia firm offering to buy the shuttered NewPage Port
Hawkesbury mill in Cape Breton wants to cut the unionized workforce in half.
Pacific West Commercial Corp. sent mill employees an ultimatum via the
internet on Thursday and said if a new collective agreement cannot be
reached, the company will withdraw its bid to buy the mill.
Members of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union Local 972
are set to meet on Thursday night to discuss the contract offer, which
would last for 10 years -- until Dec. 31, 2022 -- if it is ratified.
"Simply put, things are changing and we need to change with them," said
the letter from Pacific West Commercial Corp.
"The reality of the new staffing levels of the mill means that we need
to hire employees who will want to run this mill as efficiently and
competitively as possible."
The contract offer said 229 unionized employees will be offered work if
the mill is restarted, down from about 600 employees when the mill shut
down in September.
The NewPage Port Hawkesbury mill closed after struggling with soaring
fuel, electricity costs, a strong Canadian dollar and declining demand.
Pacific West Commercial Corp., which is associated with Stern Partners
Inc., said if the mill in Point Tupper is restarted, workers will
receive generally the same wages.
There will be a new defined contribution pension plan and profit sharing
if the company makes more than $10 million a year.
As the company had previously said, NewPage Port Hawkesbury's newsprint
machine will be permanently shut down. The steam plant will be taken
over by Nova Scotia Power Inc.
$12 million over 10 years for severance payments
The contract states 80 per cent of each major area of the mill will be
staffed by senior employees.
"Within that general rule, the company is given discretion on staffing
to ensure the critical matching of jobs to people with the abilities and
attitudes needed to ensure ongoing success," said the company.
Pacific West Commercial Corp. is offering $12 million over 10 years to
cover severance payments, as well as benefits for retired and disabled
That money is not expected to go far, considering the current pension
plan is underfunded by more than $100 million.
The province of Nova Scotia has spent $27 million to maintaining the
facility as negotiations continued to finalize its sale.
Premier Darrell Dexter had no advice for workers as they prepared to
discuss the contract agreement.
"It's up to them to decide. It's really not very useful for governments
to get in the middle of a collective bargaining situation," he told
reporters on Thursday.
"It is a matter that's between the union and the potential employer.
Everyone knows what the situation is so we hope they're able to conclude
Pacific West Commercial Corp. said if the offer is rejected, the company
will pull out of the sale and the NewPage Port Hawkesbury mill's assets
will be liquidated.