Pa­per Ex­cel­lence set to in­herit an ag­ing work­force

Ur­gent need to quickly hire and train a new gen­er­a­tion of work­ers at Cat­a­lyst

StarMetro Vancouver - - VANCOUVER - ALEX MCKEEN

Po­lit­i­cal and labour lead­ers are op­ti­mistic that the pur­chase of a B.C. pulp and pa­per gi­ant, which un­til re­cently was at the cen­tre of an In­ter­na­tional Trade Com­mis­sion com­plaint, is good news for work­ers and the com­mu­ni­ties they sup­port.

B.C. Jobs, Train­ing and Tech­nol­ogy Min­is­ter Bruce Ral­ston said the pur­chase of Cat­a­lyst pa­per se­cures 1,500 di­rect jobs in the prov­ince by en­sur­ing the con­tin­ued op­er­a­tion of the mills in Crofton, Port Al­berni and Pow­ell River.

“I think it’s a good an­nounce­ment,” Ral­ston said in an in­ter­view Tues­day, par­tic­u­larly be­cause the sale to Pa­per Ex­cel­lence Canada (PEC) — the B.c.-head­quar­tered sub­sidiary Mike Rum­ley, pres­i­dent of Uni­for Lo­cal 76, which rep­re­sents work­ers at Cat­a­lyst’s Pow­ell River mill, said the sale will be good for work­ers.

of Pa­per Ex­cel­lence group — is com­plete rather than par­tial.

“There was some con­cern Cat­a­lyst might sell piece by piece,” as the com­pany had done with its Amer­i­can op­er­a­tions,

he said.

The sale of Cat­a­lyst to PEC still needs to go through a govern­ment reg­u­la­tory re­view process be­fore it is of­fi­cially ap­proved, which the com­pany said will take place

at the end of this year or early 2019.

The fate of the mills, which ac­count for a large por­tion of the jobs in the com­mu­ni­ties in which they op­er­ate, was thrown into un­cer­tainty when a Wash­ing­ton-based pa­per pro­ducer claimed Cat­a­lyst and other Cana­dian op­er­a­tions were “dump­ing” pa­per prod­ucts on the U.S. mar­ket. Tar­iffs were placed on the com­pany but were sub­se­quently over­turned by the Amer­i­can In­ter­na­tional Trade Com­mis­sion, which found Cana­dian pa­per did not in­jure the U.S. in­dus­try. Mike Rum­ley, pres­i­dent of Uni­for Lo­cal 76, which rep­re­sents work­ers at the Pow­ell River mill lo­ca­tion, said he thinks the sale will be good news for work­ers. “We’re go­ing to be owned by a com­pany where pa­per is what hey’re in it for,” Rum­ley aid in an in­ter­view Tues­day.

Banks are cur­rently the largest share­hold­ers in Cat­a­lyst, which Rum­ley said left some work­ers con­cerned the mills may be closed. “What I know so far is Pa­per Ex­cel­lence Canada plans to run all three mills, so that’s a good thing,” Rum­ley said.

Yet the ex­change won’t do any­thing to solve an­other se­ri­ous prob­lem fac­ing the work­places. With the sales of newsprint — Cat­a­lyst’s main prod­uct — in de­cline over the last sev­eral decades, the com­pany had a long hir­ing hia­tus be­tween the 1970s and more re­cent years.

The re­sult is that ex­pe­ri­enced work­ers at the mills are re­tir­ing in droves, and there is an ur­gent need to quickly hire and train a new gen­er­a­tion of work­ers.

“For my lo­cal, I have 230 mem­bers. There are only 80 of us who have more than seven years se­nior­ity,” Rum­ley said. “Pa­per Ex­cel­lence Canada will need to carry a few ex­tra peo­ple,” he said, in order to have a well-trained work­force in the fu­ture.

Ral­ston said he’s en­cour­aged by Pa­per Ex­cel­lence Canada’s his­tory of buy­ing old mills and in­vest­ing in mod­ern­iza­tion, some­thing he thinks will help keep the Cat­a­lyst mills sus­tain­able.

NATALIE BEHRING/GETTY IM­AGES

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