Unlike the steam spewing out of the stacks at Prince George Pulp and Paper, the cloud of uncertainty hanging over the heads of the 300 workers affected by the pending permanent closure of the mill’s pulp line is not dissipating.
Chuck LeBlanc, a steam plant millwright at PG Pulp and Local 9 president of the Public and Private Workers of Canada, said Canfor has not yet informed the union how many jobs will actually be lost when the closure happens in late March.
Two weeks after Canfor announced it, LeBlanc says his union members still don’t know how many job losses will be absorbed by early retirements or what their options might be if and when their jobs come to an end.
He does know that once PG Pulp shuts down some workers from the pulp line will move to Canfor’s adjacent Intercontinental Pulp Mill, bumping some Intercon workers who have less seniority out of their jobs.
“It sucks,” said LeBlanc. “You’ve got those guys who are safe and know they are safe (because they have seniority); then you have the guys at the other end that know, no matter how much moving around we’re going to do, they won’t have a position.
“Then you’ve the guys on the bubble depending on proposals we’ve made to the company (regarding buyouts) and whether or not they’re going to have a position.”
On Wednesday, Canfor announced the permanent closure of its sawmill in Chetwynd and the indefinite curtailment of its Houston sawmill. Combined, the two closures affect 490 jobs. Although that does have an effect on the supply of residual chips pulp mills rely upon, Canfor reassured workers at its mills in Prince George the closures would not impact pulp operations in Prince George at Intercontinental and Northwood Pulp & Timber or the paper line at P.G. Pulp.
Of the 220-240 unionized workers at P.G. Pulp affected by the closure, those who will take on other Canfor jobs will be eligible for retraining under terms of their collective agreement.
“Most of them won’t be holding their same positions,” said LeBlanc. “There’s training opportunities with WorkBC and there’s a lot of stuff we need to package up and be able to give to our members.”
The other 60 positions being eliminated are hourly workers and corporate management staff.
LeBlanc wants all mill workers to know about Canfor’s employee and family assistance program, which provides counselling to help families deal with the stress of losing their jobs.
“They’re worried, and we tell them it’s not just for you, it’s for your spouses and kids,” said LeBlanc. “Anybody who is feeling this isn’t going right, talk to somebody because it’s important to look after our mental health.
“A good majority of members still have a mortgage and inflation that they’re dealing with in their lives and now to throw this in. We’ve got some really skilled people working at our mills and I truly believe they will find jobs, some of them good jobs.”
Pulp and paper mills in Vancouver Island, Cranbrook and Kamloops have already made inquiries about hiring some of the affected workers and there’s also been interest shown from other workforce sectors including the pipelines and port operators in Prince Rupert. LeBlanc admits some workers will have to leave the city to pursue their careers.