As the working class continues to fight the loss of hard-won gains, there is some good news to start 2020: pulp mill workers at Twin Rivers Paper in Edmundston have ratified a five-year collective agreement that will see their wages increase.
The collective agreement includes retroactive wage increase for a total of 11.25 percent over the life of the agreement. Wage adjustments will include production pay adjustments of 20 cents an hour in 2018 and 2019, and skilled trades pay adjustments of 25 cents an hour in 2018 and 50 cents an hour in 2019 and 2021.
Dave Boucher, President of Unifor Local 29, noted the importance of a strong bargaining team in winning this collective agreement.
“I want to thank the hard-working members for supporting the bargaining committee who worked to ensure that the management understood that members of Local 29 must share in the mill’s profits,” said Boucher whose local represents almost 300 members who work at the Twin Rivers pulp mill in the northern New Brunswick city of Edmundston.
Twin Rivers Paper Company, formerly known as Fraser Papers, is a privately-owned company and joint venture between Atlas Holdings and Blue Wolf Capital, their largest shareholder.
The company is one of a handful of companies that hold a license to cut wood from Crown land in New Brunswick, which is the unceded territory of the Wolastoqiyik, Mi’kmaq and Passamaquoddy.
Twin Rivers holds the Carleton and Restigouche-Tobique Crown licenses, a combined area of 527,179 hectares. They were one of three companies to primarily benefit from the controversial 2014 forestry strategy that guaranteed an increase in their wood supply from the Crown land.
Specializing in paper production, the Edmundston mill is part of Twin Rivers’ integrated operations that are comprised of a paper mill in Madawaska, Maine and a lumber mill in the New Brunswick village of Plaster Rock. In 2016, the company acquired the assets of New York-based Burrows Paper Corporation, including paper mills in New York and Mississippi. In 2018, the company bought the Pine Bluff mill in Arkansas.
A wage increase was not the only gain for the Edmundston pulp mill workers. Qualifying retirees will be provided with 18 months of dental and health benefits. Workers will also get a family day starting next year.
“The agreement follows the pattern set for the sector and the fact is this mill is making money and the company knows our members are essential to its success,” said Scott Doherty, Executive Assistant to Unifor’s National President.
Mayor of Edmundston Cyrille Simard welcomes this collective agreement: “Twin Rivers Paper plays an important role in our economy. This new contractual agreement is good news as it brings stability in our local economy and in the forestry sector for the whole region.”
In the early 2000s, many mill workers in New Brunswick lost their jobs when a wave of mill closures hit the province. At the time, mills were closing but a record volume of wood was being cut from the Crown land, a situation that was denounced by the unions representing mill workers, the Conservation Council of New Brunswick and smaller forestry players such as Miramichi Lumber. Regions of the province such as Miramichi were especially devastated when its mills closed.
Daniel Légère, president of the New Brunswick Federation of Labour, says that a strong labour movement is needed more than ever in “the face of global economics with free trade for corporations, but highly constrained rights for workers driving inequities on a massive scale.”
“Trickle down economics has failed workers, families and communities for decades. It’s time to turn the channel and try bottom-up economics. Only when we pay workers a fair share of the gains of economic growth, invest in their education, and job training and benefits will we see the benefits of bottom-up economics,” says Légère.
Tracy Glynn is a reporter for the NB Media Co-op.