The union representing more than 200 workers facing unemployment after Canfor announced its plan to permanently shut down the pulp line at Prince George Pulp Mill still doesn’t know how many positions will be lost.
Chuck LeBlanc, president of Local 9 of the Public and Private Workers of Canada and a millwright at PG Pulp, says some workers at the plant have already left the mill to take other jobs.
“We’re still in a holding pattern waiting for the company to come back and give us some firmed-up numbers and we’ve got a meeting with them (Tuesday) afternoon and I’m hoping tomorrow we’ll have a much better understanding where they’re going to go,” said LeBlanc.
“We’re already starting to see guys bail, they’re not waiting around. They’re finding jobs fairly quickly and I think it’s going to be a mess here for a bit. I’m starting to hear that guys are accepting positions (that require them to leave Prince George).”
He said several other pulp companies have hosted job fairs to recruit some of the affected Canfor employees. Some have indicated they will accept job offers from the Tidewater Midstream refinery adjacent to Prince George Pulp, which is undergoing an expansion to build a renewable diesel plant.
PPWC has proposed early retirements for some of its older employees, which could save a few jobs for workers at the lower end of the seniority chain. LeBlanc is still awaiting company decisions on what those retirement packages will contain.
“We need clarity on that, are they going to do it or not, because that makes a big difference down the lines of progression in different departments,” said LeBlanc.
Some P.G. Pulp employees will be shifted to Canfor’s Intercontinental Pulp Mill and will bump employees with less seniority out of their jobs and that will require retraining for those who remain with company. Some Intercon employees about to lose their jobs will be retained temporarily to show their replacements from PG Pulp how to perform their job duties.
“Probably 50 per cent of our people will have a different job and some of them have never been to Intercon, they’ve spent their entire careers at P.G. (Pulp) and now they will have to move over there and learn their area and where everything is located,” said LeBlanc. “Each process has it’s own way of working; it’s similar but not exactly the same.”
LeBlanc is not aware of any plan Canfor might have to repurpose the P.G. Pulp plant to make any alternate products. Some of the more modernized machinery used for the pulp line will be dismantled and sent to the company’s Intercon or Northwood Pulp Mill facilities.
“Unless they keep the power boiler running to supply power I really don’t see them doing other stuff with the physical plant itself; you just don’t convert a pulp mill into something to manufacture something else very easily,” he said.
Including management staff and other non-union employees, as many as 300 workers could be affected. The ripple effect of the mill closure for local support industries and contractors that provide goods and services to P.G. Pulp is expected to cost the city’s economy an estimated $100 million annually.
Because more than 50 employees will be affected, Canfor is required to issue at least eight weeks notice on layoffs. The plant will stop receiving chips on April 3 and the shutdown and cleanup processes will likely be completed by the end of April, which means the affected workers will keep their jobs for at least the next two months.
The stress on families facing an uncertain future ever since the pending closure was announced Jan. 12 is taking a toll and LeBlanc wants to remind his members to take advantage of counselling supports available through the company’s Employment & Family Assistant Program.
“Last week I was out with a couple of our executive members walking the two pulp mills, just talking to the crews, and we’re doing that again this week,” said LeBlanc. “We’re just reaffirming to everybody, watch out for everybody here. If you start noticing any of our members displaying behaviours not normal to them, to talk to them or have somebody else talk to them about what’s going on.”
LeBlanc will be one of the guest speakers at the Future of Forestry forum discussion Tuesday night at 6:30 p.m. at the Canfor Theatre at UNBC.