[ST. JOHN'S, NL] — Joseph Kruger’s tone was bleak as he spoke briefly to the media following a two-hour meeting with Premier Kathy Dunderdale about the future of his mill in Corner Brook.
“I’m very very concerned,” he said. “I’m discouraged and I’m concerned about the future of the mill. It’s going to take the people of Corner Brook to make this happen.”
For months, the future of the province’s only remaining paper mill has been in jeopardy as Kruger Inc. tries to restructure operations at Corner Brook Pulp and Paper.
On Monday, Kruger came to St. John’s to meet with Dunderdale.
At the end of the late-afternoon meeting, Dunderdale said she’d come to an understanding with Kruger.
“There’s an arrangement that can take place between us and Corner Brook Pulp and Paper that would be critical to the ongoing operation of the mill,” Dunderdale said.
“I’m not going to discuss any detail of that today other than to say that we’re satisfied with the talks so far.”
She wouldn’t say anything specific about whether the government is willing to put up money or get directly involved. Dunderdale would only say they’ve agreed on “the terms of a framework of support.”
For the moment, though, the government will do nothing.
Before the government steps in directly, she said, the company and the unions in Corner Brook need to come to an understanding and agree on a sustainability plan for the mill.
Action must be taken quickly: Kruger VP
The company also needs to work out a plan to restructure the mill’s pension plan. An attempt to do just that was stymied earlier this year when unionized workers voted against a plan for the company to put off topping up the unfunded pension liability for more than five years.
“We’ll have to wait and see what happens in Corner Brook among the negotiations and whether the union and the company are able to put together a sustainable plan for the future, and then of course there’ll have to be a second vote on the pension issue,” Dunderdale said. “It’s not appropriate for us, the government, to be engaged in those issues. There are negotiations that they have before them, and they want to revisit the pension issue again. Both of those things are critical.”
Daniel Archambault, executive vice-president for Kruger, said that all of this needs to happen quickly, or the company will have to close the mill.
“We are as a management group, still assessing the future of the operation, the future viability of that operation,” Archambault said. “We don’t have much time in front of us. We’re evolving in a tough economic environment and a tough market, and we need to be competitive.”
NDP Leader Lorraine Michael said she’d like to see the government be more actively involved, especially when it comes to the pension issue.
She said if need be, the government should be willing to put money on the table to help bring about a deal.
“I think when it comes to the pension issue, we’re into something that is quite complicated and I don’t think that should be left between just the company and the workers. I actually think the three parties need to sit together,” she said. “Seriously, sit at the table and figure it out.”