Howe Sound Pulp Lays Off Newsprint Workers

More than 100 workers laid off due to shortages of raw materials resulting from loggers and sawmill workers strike on the B.C. coast.

VANCOUVER (CP) — Howe Sound Pulp and Paper laid off more than 100 workers Friday from its newsprint operation due to shortages of raw materials as a result of a strike by loggers and sawmill workers on the B.C. coast.
 
The company shut down newsprint production at its mill in Port Mellon, B.C., last week and laid off between 120 and 150 workers involved with the operation of the machine temporarily after a week of maintenance work on the paper machine.
 
Howe Sound spokesman Al Strang said the company had enough raw material to continue running its pulp mill late into September, but after that more difficult decisions would have to be made.
 
''We're evaluating different possibilities beyond that,'' Strang said.
 
Pulp and paper mills depend on wood chips generated by sawmill operations for a supply of wood fibre. However, B.C.'s coastal forestry industry is undergoing a strike by thousands of unionized workers who are negotiating labour agreements.
 
Graham Kissack of Catalyst Paper, one of the biggest paper companies on the coast, said his company was beginning to feel the squeeze on its fibre supplies.
 
Kissack said Catalyst had set out a plan before the strike to manage its stockpile of raw material, but if the strike drags into September things become a little more unclear.
 
''We will start to see shortages of fibre and wood waste which we use as fuel to generate steam and electricity in the coming weeks,'' he said.
 
Catalyst said it would curtail most of its production at the Campbell River Elk Falls mill effective Aug. 31 due to limited fibre supply. About 600 Catalyst employees will be affected.
 
Howe Sound Pulp and Paper, a joint venture of Canfor Corp. and Oji Paper Co. Ltd., employs 600 people, and produces 400,000 tonnes per year of bleached kraft pulp and 220,000 tonnes per year of newsprint.
 
About 7,000 coastal forestry workers employed by Island Timberlands, International Forest Products and 31 companies represented by Forest Industrial Relations walked off the job on July 21.
 
Key issues are work scheduling, severance and protection from contracting out. No talks have been scheduled.
 
Catalyst's temporary closure will remove about 1,100 tonnes per day of paper production and 900 tonnes per day of pulp products.
 
The company said the mill will continue to run its No. 2 paper machine, but this will be curtailed sometime in mid-September.
 
The last time B.C.'s coastal forestry workers went on strike was in 2003. That strike ended after three weeks when the provincial government stepped in and appointed Don Munroe, a long-time mediator and arbitrator, to direct a new contract.
 
The union plans to start a publicity campaign at Home Depot stores across Canada on Saturday asking customers to not buy lumber manufactured by companies where the workers are on strike.
 
Union spokesman Steve Hunt said talks toward a settlement were closest with Island Timberlands before negotiations broke off.
 
''If we can get the Island people back going again, it is possible we could get a settlement and that may be the catalyst for everybody else,'' he said.
 
However Ron Shewchuk, spokesman for Forest Industrial Relations, repeated a call for the union to put its last offer to a vote by its membership.
 
''We feel that our offer is worthy of serious consideration,'' he said. ''It wasn't offered lightly. A lot of work went into it on both sides and we think it is worth bringing to the members.''
 
On Thursday, the B.C. Labour Relations Board rejected TimberWest's application to force a vote on an offer to the union that would raise wages by 11 per cent over five years and provide a $100,000 signing bonus for each of its 29 engineers and foresters.
 
However the union said the company has filed another application for another ''final'' offer vote.
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