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Newfoundland: Abitibi-Consolidated demands yearly 'cost reduction'

(5 February 2007) - IN LATE JANUARY, Abitibi-Consolidated (AC), now AbitibiBowater, announced it was asking the management and union at its paper mill in Grand Falls-Windsor to come up with proposals for a yearly reduction of $10 million in "operating costs."

In 2005, in spite of huge hydro subsidies from the Newfoundland government, Abitibi-Consolidated shut down its Stephenville paper mill in Newfoundland and the future of the Grand Falls-Windsor mill has been uncertain for a long time. Abitibi-Consolidated has for years badmouthed the mill in Grand Falls-Windsor, saying that it was old and not productive enough and has threatened to shut down one of its two paper machines. The workers point out that the monopoly has refused to modernize the machines and instead attempted to get more and more concessions from the workers and the government under the threat of closing the plant.

The dictate of Abitibi-Consolidated is exercised at a time when the pressures on the workers in Newfoundland and in all the Atlantic provinces are at their highest. Workers are facing the devastation of the economy of the region and the dictate that if they want work they have to migrate to Alberta.

Shunpiking stands firmly with the workers at Abitibi-Consolidated who are fighting for their dignity and for a livelihood for all.

Interview with George McDonald, President, CEP Local 63, Grand Falls-Windsor

Posted below is an interview with George McDonald, the President of Local 63 of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP) from TML Daily.

* * *

TML: What is your response to the demand of Abitibi-Consolidated for $10 million in cost reductions?

George McDonald: Our response is clear. We are ready to look into ways of reducing unnecessary costs but we will not accept any more layoffs. There are always inefficiencies that can be eliminated and better ways to do business. But if the company is coming up with a demand for layoffs, we will fight.

We have had layoffs in recent years and we are already stretched to do the work that is required from us. We are short staffed and it is actually costing the company a lot of money at time-and-a-half because of the shortage of workers.

We had membership meetings where we discussed the company's demand. We said that we were ready to look into it, but the cost reduction must not be made at the expense of the workers.

We have 53 communities that depend on the mill for their existence. Our people need to work and they are doing very good work. The average age of our workers is around 49 and there is no other work for them in the area. As you know, the other paper mill in Stephenville has closed and it is now partially torn down.

Abitibi-Consolidated has plenty of forests close by and it has its own hydro dams for its hydro power. We are producing the pulp that feeds the mill. Our mill is not young and our paper machines need to be modernized but the company is not investing any new money in the mill. The place is the same as it has been for years.

At the moment, the government of Newfoundland is standing firm behind Bill 27 that says that if AC was to close either of the two paper machines it would lose its timber license from the government. This license represents 60 per cent of its wood supply. We say that the government must stand firm on this.

TML: Did you participate in the day of action of CEP to save the forest sector jobs?

GM: Yes we did. We paid a visit to our Liberal MP and we circulated the CEP petition to other workplaces and in our 53 communities.

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