Tuesday, September 01, 2009

As of last midnight almost 300 workers at the Powerview Pine Falls newsprint plant have been locked out by management of the Tembec company. Management has been demanding concessions that amount to a 35 percent cut in wages and benefits. This is, to say the least an astounding demand. Perhaps the rolls pictured in the photo above are actually what they look like- toilet paper for the management washrooms. After all, if you are in competition for the "Biggest A.... Award" you need the equipment to maintain your winning bid. Here's the bare bones of the story from our local paper, the Winnipeg Free Press.

Tembec workers have been laid off four times this year for a total of 12 weeks.

Close to 300 workers at Tembec's Powerview-Pine Falls newsprint plant were to be locked out at midnight Monday night only one week after being called back to work after an extensive shut down.

Union officials said the troubled forestry product company gave workers an "ultimatum" to accept a new contract that included wage and benefits concessions totalling 35 per cent.

"We're prepared to do our part to cut costs," said Wayne Skrypnyk, United Steelworkers area supervisor. "But when we asked to see the breakdown of the cost containment measures being made throughout the operation, we were told we had to agree to the concession before they will talk about other cost containment activities."

In addition to the 260 USW workers close to 20 office workers will also be affected by the lock out.

Skrypnyk said his members were not prepared to shoulder all the cost cutting when, he said, company executives received substantial increased in their bonuses over the past couple of years.

He said the union's legal advisers are investigating whether or not a claim can be made with the provincial labour board regarding bad faith bargaining.

Workers had already been out on an extended shut down and were called back to work only one week ago which was one week ahead of schedule.

Now Skrypnyk believes company officials were planning on a lock out all along and needed the workers back to allow for an orderly shut down.

Pine Falls workers have been laid off four times this year for a total of 12 weeks. The longest plant shutdown was for six weeks in June and July. The other three -- one over the Christmas-New Year period, another in February, and the most recent one that began Aug. 11 -- were for two weeks each.

The USW collective agreement ended Monday. Talks to renew the contract only began in mid-August and according to Skrypnyk consisted of the company demanding concessions with no room for the union to negotiate.

John Valley, Tembec's executive vice-president, business development and corporate affairs, would not comment on the lock out or the collective bargaining agreement situation.

But he did say that the industry in a critical state.

"We have seen a profound structural decline in demand for newsprint," Valley said. "The newsprint industry is in the most challenging period it has ever faced."

Valley said low newsprint prices and higher Canadian dollar has negatively affected the market, but "the principal and critical issue is the dramatic over-supply of newsprint."

He said newsprint sites will have to close and those that survive must be cost competitive.
Tembec's Manitoba newsprint operations is the largest employer by far in the town of Powerview-Pine Falls, located about 130 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.

The newsprint plant has had a rocky recent history with a couple of changes of ownership and more than $100 million in capital investments at the beginning of the decade.

But industry officials say that new Canadian subsidies for pulp plants and a new loop hole that has allowed the newsprint industry in the U.S. to receive tax credits is making it even harder for Canadian newsprint plants to survive.
Workers at Tembec's Pine Falls facility are represented by the United Steels Workers Canada (USW). Lord knows the USW has quite a lot on its plate these days, what with the strike(s) against Vale Inco. In any case here is the union position from the USW website, written before the recent lockout.

Tembec to Lock Out Workers on September 1 at Manitoba Newsprint Operations in Pine Falls:
WINNIPEG, MB, 28 Aug 2009 – In an all-out effort to take away some 35 per cent in wage and benefit concessions from United Steelworkers and Canadian Office and Professional Employee Union members, Tembec Inc. negotiators have informed the unions that it will lock out its Manitoba Newsprint Operations in Pine Falls on September 1, 2009.

Over 250 USW Local 3-1375 members are employed in the operations.

“The company is holding true to an ultimatum style of collective bargaining,” says USW area supervisor Wayne Skrypnyk. “It threatened a shutdown on September 1 if it didn’t get its way and now it is proceeding.”

Union negotiators were presented further details on concession demands this morning.

At the same time the company refuses to share information on any other efforts it may be taking with other stakeholders to reduce costs for the operations.

“There’s much the company could do, with other stakeholders, in terms of achieving savings on fibre and silviculture costs, woodlands costs, energy and transportation efficiencies, and taxes but it categorically refuses to share those options with us,” says union staff representative Scott McRitchie.

Skrypnyk says the union is willing to continue to bargain and encourages the company to reconsider its lock out position.

“Our members and the people of Powerview-Pine Falls have already suffered enough through the current economic downturn,” says Skrypnyk. “A lockout on September 1, after contract talks just begun on August 13, does not send a positive signal to workers or the community.

Tembec has to act responsibly.”

The Steelworkers are Canada’s largest industrial union with 250,000 members in all sectors of the economy.
Wayne Skrypnyk 204.940.3050 / 204.232.7335 /
Scott McRitchie 204.940.3050 /
See also this item, also from the USW website.

27 AUGUST 2009
Tembec Refuses to Work with Unions to Save Mill Jobs in Pine Falls:
POWERVIEW PINE FALLS, MB – Representatives of the United Steelworkers and the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union say Tembec Inc. is refusing to share information on its cost reduction demands or share any records of its efforts with other stakeholders to reduce production costs at the company’s Manitoba Newspaper Operations here.

The operations, which employ over 250 USW Local 3-1375 union members, is currently covered by a collective agreement that expires on August 31, 2009.

“Our unions are prepared to continue to bargain to find a viable agreement that helps all parties concerned but Tembec isn’t cooperative,” says USW area supervisor Wayne Skrypnyk.
COPE Local 216 staff rep Don Talarico says it’s “extremely frustrating when employer representatives refuse to provide adequate information that would allow us to make informed decisions.”

Instead of working with the unions, company negotiators have set an ultimatum that workers must accept wage and contract concessions, estimated by the unions to be well over 35 per cent, by August 31. If concessions are not agreed to, Tembec management says the plant will not operate on September 1.

Tembec is trying to gut our collective agreement and, at the same time, does not want to share how many dollars savings, per tonne, its concessionary demands would amount to,” says USW Western Canada Director Stephen Hunt. “This company should also be willing let its employees know what it is willing to do in production and market innovation and in cooperation with the Manitoba and federal governments, to improve sales and reduce overall costs for Pine Falls.”

The mill produces newsprint by thermo-mechanical means, which has in recent months been put at a greater economic disadvantage by federal government subsidies to pulp producers aimed at offsetting the advantage US mills get under the so-called “black liquor subsidy program,” Unfortunately, Pine Falls and other mills that use thermo-mechanical pulping processes don’t qualify.

“The Steelworkers are certainly willing to help Tembec get some sort of assistance under the Canadian program,” said Hunt.

Collective Bargaining commenced on August 13 and continued this week.

The Steelworkers are Canada’s largest industrial union with 280,000 members in all sectors of the economy.
Stephen Hunt 604.683.1117; /604.816.2554
Wayne Skrypnyk 204.677.1710; /204.232.7335
It is, of course, presumptuous for anyone not totally acquainted with local conditions to make recommendations, but some "advise" can be given here even in the absence of such knowledge. The first and most obvious recommendation is that the workers victimized by this lockout should make extreme efforts to sign up both local citizens of their community and the wider Manitoba/North West Ontario community to gather as much support as they can. Even if the workers believe that there will be some "political savior" who will come along to intervene they must understand that such political intervention can only be generated by a wider outreach than a simple worker versus company dispute.

The second thing that people should realize is that there are other examples of how workers have responded to such company intimidation that have been much more effective than traditional Canadian trade union tactics. In many countries workers have responded by both occupying their workplaces and by resuming production without management, marketing the product via their own networks. many such examples have been described before on this blog. I know that this sort of thing is a very unlikely prospect in the newsprint industry. If for no other reason than that the total demand from both the provinces of Manitoba and Ontario (let alone the "effective demand" of those customers who would indeed support such marketing) is far less than the present plant's production. OK, that idea is out, but I will suggest that a workplace occupation would, like hanging, do wonders to concentrate management's mind. I would further suggest that, when the inevitable injunction happens and people have to exit the plant, that there is nothing in the language of any injunction that prevents secondary, tertiary, quaternary,etc.,etc., etc. occupations by non-union members by members of the that portion of the wider community that the workers have drawn into support. An injunction, after all, has to be aimed at a specific group to have any legal meaning. All this, of course, assumes that the workers involved in this lockout are willing to "go the extra mile" rather than depend upon either union officials or politicians. If you don't do it yourself it won't be done.

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