Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Earlier today Tembec, after almost 4 months of lockout against their workers announced that they planned to put their plant at Pine Falls up for sale. The announcement took pretty well everybody by surprise. Here's the basic story earlier this day from the CBC.
Tembec to sell Pine Falls plant:
Last Updated: Tuesday, December 8, 2009 1:54 PM CT Comments26

Workers at forestry company Tembec's newsprint mill in Pine Falls, Man., are expressing relief over news the mill is up for sale.

The mill has been idle since Sept. 1 when the Montreal-based company locked out its unionized staff, represented by the United Steelworkers.

Tembec said on Tuesday that it's in the best interest of the company and its more than 250 employees to sell the mill.

That comes as a relief to Mike Dupont, a finishing and shipping supervisor, who has worked at the plant for 21 years.

The biggest problem workers had with the lockout was living under a cloud of uncertainty, Dupont said.

"Sell it to someone who maybe wants to run this place and get us back to work and do what we do best," he said. "That's what I'm very hopeful for."

Tembec said it has told the Manitoba government and the United Steelworkers that it's prepared to end the current lockout, subject to reaching an agreement on a limited number of local issues.

However, the company said won't reopen the mill, located about 130 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.

Prior to closing, the company had said it needed "an immediate and significant reduction" in labour costs to stay competitive in the newsprint market.

The union said it was willing to accept wage cuts, but sticking points in negotiations have been pension plan changes and severance pay.

Gary Richardson, who has worked at the mill for 31 years, said he's convinced the business can be profitable.

"The future is, mills, paper mills, newsprint mills are gonna be closing. If you can keep your cost low enough, you’re gonna stay in the game. There’s always gonna be a market for newsprint. The trick is to keep your costs low and that’s the problem right now," Richardson said.
Union caught off guard
Tuesday's announcement caught the United Steelworkers local off guard, president Cam Sokoloski said. It was just a few days ago that there was hope that the mill would reopen.

Sokoloski said on Dec. 1 that the Manitoba government offered to send a letter to Tembec urging the company to get back to work.

"[Tembec] kept telling us their intent was to run the mill," Sokoloski said Tuesday.
The company had told the union their intent was to permanently close the plant if a collective agreement couldn't be reached by January, Sokoloski added.

The union will now turn to pressuring the federal government for employment insurance benefits to see the workers through the winter, Sokoloski said. (HUH...the "request: for such a thing was already made via the "political dependency" on our provincial government. As Molly has said before this is very much like petitioning the High Lord of Hell to finance a cathedral to the Virgin Mary. Plain and simple it won't happen. What this is is "diversion" whereby someone attempts to be seem to be doing something while, in actual fact, doing nothing.)
Our provincial government, of course, is attempting to put the best "spin" of concern about this matter, as the following item from CBC says. Our Premier has lowered himself to attend an "emergency meeting" in Pine Falls, after weeks/months of doing nothing but sending a letter to "the heart of darkness" about how workers in Pine Falls should be able to collect EI.
Once more, our presumably "pro-labour" provincial government is trying to its best to appear to "be concerned". They have offered a $1 million "transition fund" to the workers in Pine Falls. This works out to about $3,000 per worker. Take away from this the inevitable ½ "tribute" whereby government employees get to tell the people that they are in "deep shit" ( a conservative estimate as, when dealing with natives, the 'suck it off" ratio is about 90%) and you get about $1,500 per family. That should cover their moving expenses to as far as Portage La Prairie. Here is the public relations exercise of our NDP government.
Emergency meeting set over Tembec sale:
Manitoba kicks in $1M for 'community adjustment'
An emergency meeting will be held in Pine Falls, Man., on Tuesday for provincial officials to talk with local politicians and residents about the planned sale of a local paper mill amid a labour dispute.

Montreal-based company Tembec said earlier Tuesday it plans to sell its newsprint plant, where more than 250 unionized workers have been locked out since Sept. 1.

Tembec is the town's largest employer. The workers are represented by the United Steelworkers union.

Pine Falls Deputy Mayor Jack Shwaluk said many townspeople have spent their lives working at the mill. He worries that if it doesn't reopen it could be devastating for everyone around the community 130 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.

"I'm not sure how successful they'll be in finding jobs elsewhere, so the impact could be enormous — not only to the families, but to the businesses and to the entire community," Shwaluk said.

"If this mill should shut down, it would be very, very devastating to the area."

In the wake of Tuesday's news, Manitoba has set aside $1 million for a "community adjustment committee" to set up projects that will aid workers heading into an uncertain future.

Jennifer Howard, provincial labour minister, said the closure of the mill is a "traumatic event" for workers.

"We will do everything we can to help them cope with the impact," Howard said in a release.
Premier Greg Selinger will speak at the meeting, scheduled for 4 p.m. CT.
Previously on this blog Molly has praised the actions of unionists in BC who have moved to take over their workplace under a producers' cooperative SEE HERE. To say the least all things are context dependent. Workers' takeovers of enterprises are best done in good economic times. The idea of workers in Pine Falls advancing this idea now would merely guarantee the highest price that Tembec might ask. Tembec would have few other buyers. My first thought is that the asking price should be reduced by an immediate occupation of the workplace. If for no other reason except punishment. I doubt that the workers involved are so determined as to go to these lengths, but I would recommend it to them as the best bargaining tool that they have left to them. As to how they will bargain with the provincial government, I will leave that up to common sense ie don't trust the conservative opposition. I have no great plans that people in Pine Falls could follow. Commentators on the references above have offered their own opinions, some of which involve a workers' cooperative. I urge the reader to peruse them. for myself I am doubtful in this case. What I would say is that the provincial government's "transitional funds" are totally insufficient, and that they shouldn't be allowed to get away so cheaply from a situation that they intended to betray in the first place.

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