Things may be looking up in Port Alice. Way up.
Unifor Local 514 voted overwhelmingly in favour of entering into discussions with the Neucel Specialty Cellulose pulp mill in Port Alice.
Neucel has recently been looking at ways to cut financial costs during the pulp mill’s production curtailment, and they made a request to the 514 union to reopen the five-year collective agreement that was signed back in 2013.
“We need to reduce our fixed costs, and wages are a large part of fixed costs,” said Neucel’s Vice President of Human Resources Warren Beatty, who added that in order for the company to restart pulp production, they need to change “the way we do things. We need a process to make those changes, which was why we asked to reopen the collective agreement.”
The 514 Union held a meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 14 to discuss Neucel’s request to reopen the agreement, which is currently in effect until Dec. 31, 2017.
“The company put forward a request,” said 514 Union President Don Vye. “We have due process to respond to them, so we put forward the information to a meeting on Tuesday night. Senior officers and wage delegates voted 96 per cent in favour to arrange a meeting to sit down and tell the company we are willing to discuss some specific areas of cost reduction.”
That meeting was held Thursday, Nov. 17, said Beatty. “The union requested some additional information at the meeting, which we are currently in the process of giving them. The union will then decide whether to accept it, or to make other recommendations by Dec. 19.”
Neucel has been in production curtailment since March of 2015. They were originally supposed to be closed for six months, but the “conditions that existed in March continued to exist after the initial six months,” said Beatty, adding that recently there have been improvements. “The market price for our product is strengthening, which is why we are now working towards restarting the mill.”
When asked to comment, Port Alice Mayor Jan Allen replied that it’s “fantastic news,” adding that “it all sounds positive that Neucel and the union are working together to reopen the mill and cease curtailment. We’re all very hopeful about the mill, the whole regional district’s goal is to get the mill operational again.”
At a Sept. 29, 2015 open house in Port Alice, it was stated that the 100-year-old mill will need equipment upgrades if it does restart. If those upgrades happen, there will likely be 320 to 360 employees — down from about 400.