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70 Crofton paper workers face at least another three-month closure

The workers had hoped to be back on the job Dec. 1, but the company says international paper markets have not recovered as anticipated
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The latest extension means the curtailment of paper operations at the Crofton mill will now stretch to at least eight months. PAPER EXCELLENCE CANADA

Paper Excellence says paper operations at its Crofton mill will remain shuttered until at least the end of February, which is bad news for about 70 unionized workers who had hoped to be back on the job Dec. 1.

The latest extension means the curtailment will now stretch to at least eight months.

The company cited continued challenging conditions in international paper markets that have not recovered as anticipated.

“Paper Excellence Canada continues to work with our employees to mitigate the impact of the ongoing paper production curtailment,” the company said in a statement.

The affected workers are part of Unifor Local 1132.

Local president Tanner McQuarrie said the latest curtailment is making life difficult for members.

“As a second-generation papermaker, I am now seeing not only my new young friends being forced out of the industry, but also a lot of senior members who have known me my whole life,” McQuarrie said Friday.

He said if there is any silver lining to the company’s latest announcement, “at least it had the respect to give us notice of three months instead of just one.”

McQuarrie also noted it’s a huge blow to union members because the promised millions in upgrades unveiled during a press conference last year to save their jobs now seems uncertain — including $18.8 million in both federal and provincial funding.

“Let’s have our MPs and MLAs step in front of the cameras not only when times are good, but also when times are tough,” said McQuarrie.

Unifor said the fourth consecutive curtailment at Crofton has left the community wondering why the company has nothing to show for the public funding.

“This is the opposite of getting results,” said Lana Payne, Unifor’s national president. “Millions of public dollars were invested and workers are off the job 10 months later. Workers and the community deserve answers from the company about why they are failing to meet established timelines.

“We also want answers from the provincial and federal government as to why we are saddled with curtailment after curtailment.”

Paper Excellence received the $18.8 million as part of an investment to enable the restart of its C2 paper machine and upgrade the efficiency of the mill’s boiler.

But it’s the fourth time Paper Excellence has announced a shutdown extension since May, when a 30-day curtailment was planned.

“We’ve seen no plan for forestry workers facing layoffs other than a one-way ticket out of the industry,” said Gavin McGarrigle, Unifor’s western regional director. “That’s no way to treat the workers who have built our forestry industry and their communities deserve better answers from government.”

Pulp operations at the Crofton Mill, which employ about 400 union and salaried staff, were restarted in October after a three-month curtailment, and are expected to continue during the extended paper curtailment.

Paper Excellence said it will continue to supply customers with products typically made at Crofton from its other mills, including Port Alberni.

Its customers for printing and specialty paper include retailers, publishers and commercial printers in North America, Latin America, Asia and Europe.

dkloster@timescolonist.com