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Catalyst Paper Tis’kwat mill moves into indefinite curtailment

“It’s been a little unsettling to say the least. We’ve gone through downsizing and curtailments before but nothing to this level because this is an indefinite curtailment." ~ UNIFOR Local 76 president Marvin Coe
MAKING CHANGES: UNIFOR Local 76 members at Catalyst Paper Tis’kwat mill are adjusting to the indefinite curtailment announced by Paper Excellence. While some union members are still working at the mill site, many have received layoff notices, stepped out of the main gate [above] for perhaps the last time, and are looking at the prospect of retraining.

Catalyst Paper’s Tis’kwat mill has begun its indefinite curtailment in earnest, with many workers putting in their final day at the mill on February 4.

UNIFOR Local 76 president Marvin Coe said there are a few members still working, however.

“We’ve met with the employer and we have ongoing meetings every week,” said Coe. “The plan is to de-risk the site, to do things like draining and flushing tanks, that kind of stuff.”

Coe said hopefully, the work can keep the mill in an operational state.

Local 76’s membership right now is 133 and the majority have been given layoff notices, according to the union president.

“The employer sent those out last week,” said Coe. “It’s been a little unsettling to say the least. We’ve gone through downsizing and curtailments before but nothing to this level because this is an indefinite curtailment. That’s what the employer has announced it as.”

Coe said the union’s hope is that the curtailment will end at some point but union members are also exploring the option of retraining or seeking other employment options.

“We’ve been dealing with the City of Powell River,” said Coe. “Scott Randolph [manager of development, properties and communication] has been really good at organizing things.

“We’ve had transitional meetings and we’re looking at funding for retraining for laid-off members through Service Canada and WorkBC as well. They’ve been quite helpful with that.”

Coe said one matter that is quite concerning is the old-growth logging deferrals that were announced by the provincial government.

“There is a direct link to the fibre loss we had at the mill here,” said Coe. “It was directly tied to our viability because we need the fibre to make paper, and in our business, that’s what put us on this path to indefinite curtailment.

“We’ve been making packaging grade and we were running at 94 per cent machine efficiency. It’s kind of unheard of in our industry to run that well. The workers did all they could. You just can’t run higher efficiencies than that on the machines for the grade we were making.”

There had been a shift at the mill, from manufacturing newsprint to other types of paper products, and Coe said the union’s membership is adaptive to change, whether it’s productivity on the paper grade changes, automation changes or other factors.

“They worked diligently,” said Coe of his membership. “It’s out of their control and directly tied to that old-growth fibre that we’re no longer getting. Now, there is only so much fibre in the basket, as they say, so it directly affected us.”

Another matter of concern to the workers is support from the provincial government, said Coe.

“Now that the old-growth deferrals have been announced, we need access to the retirement bridging funding, to allow the senior workers to qualify for assistance so they can take retirement and create work for the younger guys, and stay in Powell River, which would be good all the way around,” he added. “We don’t understand why we haven’t been allowed access to that funding. It’s there – it’s been announced. We’ve had several members enquire about these programs, the retirement bridging one in particular, and we don’t understand why we are not being allowed.

“I’m reaching out, and any help we can get on that front would be outstanding. If there’s programs, and people want to retrain – it’s focused around the families staying in the community.”