Interview with Chris Allison, President, Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union (CEP) Local 689, Miramichi
TML: What was UPM's actual announcement regarding the mill closures?
Chris Allison: UPM announced the closure of the coated paper mill and of the groundwood mill on the other side of the river. UPM says that it is shutting down the two plants for 9-12 months until the market and the business situation improve. That is what they are telling us. There is no guarantee that they will reopen the mills once the 9-12 month period is over. We met with the company and they said that the odds were a 20 per cent chance of reopening, but that unless investments came, it did not matter what the Canadian dollar is up to, they would not reopen. This means more than 600 workers will lose their jobs. The closure is effective mid-August. The Miramichi community is going to be impacted in many ways, one being the small industrial operations connected with the mills that are going to suffer. As well, most of the workers at the mill live in Miramichi.
TML: Why, in your opinion, is UPM shutting down its operations in Miramichi?
CA: This company is looking to increase the price of its coated paper. Also, it is a Finnish company and its biggest target now is to export raw logs to Finland from the province of New Brunswick. Vladimir Putin of Russia is imposing tariffs on all Russian wood going into Finland, so they do not have the wood and therefore they are going to try to pull ours away. They are trial loading a shipment of New Brunswick wood through the port of Belledune and they are looking into sending it to Finland.
We know pretty well that they were never here to run the mills. They're only here to get the market for that kind of coated paper so that they can manipulate it. Now they are trying to stick another knife in us by trying to take the natural resources here and ship them out. They are an amazing company. They told us that they would not sell the mill, but they plan to sell their raw logs to their competition and ship our wood all over Finland.
We went on strike in 2005 and signed a five-year contract. In the midst of the contract, we agreed to defer a wage increase and to a 5.5 per cent wage rollback until 2008. We agreed to a substantial wage cut because they were saying that they would turn Miramichi around.
It is interesting that they can't make money out of the coated and groundwood paper we make because of the high Canadian dollar but they can make money with our wood. I think that with the high Canadian dollar, they got the excuse they were looking for. We gave them money. Production went up. The government offered them money. I think that they were not expecting any of these things and that they were ready to use anything as an excuse to shut us down. Finally, at the end of the day, the Canadian dollar gave them the opportunity to do what they wanted to do.
TML: What kind of actions are the workers undertaking following this announcement?
CA: We already went to the New Brunswick Federation of Labour. We passed a resolution on the floor with a standing vote, unanimous. We have a five-union committee set up that includes Weyerhaeuser in Miramichi, which is down, and two UPM sawmills that are also down.
At the moment, our struggle is focused on stopping the shipment of raw logs. We have other plans that we will announce in the course of time.
UPM won't sell the mill to a competitor but they do not mind selling the logs to competitors. Weyerhaeuser is exporting logs, too, not far from here, so their workers are on board with us. We are looking into what the legislation says about it. We hear from MLAs that it is not legal for them to close the mills and then ship these raw logs. But we also hear that already a lot of logs are shipped from New Brunswick to Newfoundland and woodland workers there are losing their jobs because of that. So the companies are in this together.
We want the New Brunswick government to stand firm and defend our natural resources.
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