PINE FALLS, Man. (CP) -- The lockout at the Tembec newsprint plant at Pine Falls is over, but that doesn't mean the more than 250 unionized workers will get their jobs back.
On Wednesday, the Manitoba Labour Board agreed to a union request to appoint an arbitrator to impose a new contract in the dispute, ending the lockout that began in early September, said Wayne Skrypnyk, Manitoba supervisor with the United Steelworkers union.
The company has already said it will close the plant and put it up for sale, so the labor board ruling is almost sure to trigger formal layoff notices.
"At least the lockout will be over and they (the workers) will be entitled to apply for Employment Insurance benefits," Skrypnyk said.
An official with the labor board couldn't be reached for comment and John Valley, a Tembec executive handling media inquiries, was unavailable to return phone calls Wednesday, an aide said.
The Pine Falls lockout began Sept. 1, after the union rejected a company proposal that would have cut wages and benefits by 35 percent.
On Dec. 23, the union asked the labor board to appoint an arbitrator to impose a collective agreement, a process that can take months. The labor board agreed to the request, so the company is now faced with bringing the employees back to work.
"Tembec will now have to advise the employees on what they're going to do," Skrypnyk said. "Are they bringing them back to work or are they laying them all off?"
He said until they receive written notice from the company, the workers will remain on the picket line.
"They'll still be picketing until such time as Tembec says here's your layoff notice or here's your notice to return to some form of work."
Even if the company closes the plant, the board may still hear arguments from both sides on a new collective agreement, the union leader said.
"There still has to be a collective agreement in place in case they ever open up or in case they sell it to someone else, which would then become a bargaining point for the new owner."
Sagkeeng First Nation has expressed an interest in buying the paper mill, but has said it's in no rush to make a decision.
Chief Donovan Fontaine said the band has long had its eye on taking a stake in the local paper mill, but a great deal of scrutiny is required before it will enter negotiations with Tembec.