More layoffs at local mill
Resolute Forest Products dropped another bombshell yesterday by announcing paper machine #5 (PM5) here will be idled until at least the end of March.
Plans call for production to cease Jan. 31, with about 150 employees being impacted by the shutdown.
Mayor Roy Avis said he learned of the bad news late Monday night.
“It’s a shock. It’s another real serious blow to the community as a whole,” he remarked yesterday.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re working for Resolute or you’re working any place in the community, it’s going to be a devastating blow,” the mayor added.
Back in November, 2012, when Resolute announced its kraft mill and PM5 would be idled indefinitely, resulting in the layoff of 239 employees, the Town of Fort Frances took the approach that it would work with Resolute in any way it could in order to get the local mill back on track.
“Resolute’s kept us informed,” Mayor Avis noted. “They’ve worked with us, they’ve been trying to get the mill repositioned—the kraft mill repositioned and the paper machines repositioned—and it hasn’t been working . . . the way the economy is.
“I was hoping that the [drop] in the Canadian dollar would help strengthen our position and maybe get the mill up working again, but it hasn’t,” the mayor added.
“I just hope, looking down the path, we can get some positive news out of that operation.”
Local MP John Rafferty said news of the impending shutdown is “unfortunate.”
“I suppose there is a bit of silver lining in that [Resolute has gone] into asset protection mode, which means they’re going to keep the heat and power on,” he remarked.
“That’s a good thing.
“But there are 148 people affected by this and that’s really unfortunate,” Rafferty added.
“I realize that a fairly large percentage of them are eligible to retire, about a third of them, so the impact won’t be quite as bad,” he noted.
“And, of course, the woodlands and the salary people are still there, and some of the trades.
“But I think we certainly have to support Resolute at this time,” Rafferty stressed.
“It might sound a little funny but I have spoken to the upper management of Resolute and they assure me that this protection mode is important—important to the repositioning of this plant.”
Rafferty said it’s a reality of the forest industry that the ups and downs of the company are so closely tied to the ups and downs of its workforce. But he feels the public should take Resolute at its word that it is looking to keep the mill here operating.
“Whether or not that’s making paper or not, I’m not sure,” he conceded. “But I think we have to be hopeful.
“I’m certainly disappointed that No. 5 is going down but I am hopeful, in my discussions with Resolute, that they’re actively trying to reposition that part and also the kraft part,” Rafferty added.
He noted Resolute is spending money elsewhere in the region, which leads him to believe the company has faith in Northwestern Ontario, its wood supply, and the workers here.
In the meantime, Rafferty admitted he’s concerned about Resolute remaining solvent enough to keep paying out pensions to retirees and those soon to be retired.
Local MPP Sarah Campbell issued a statement late yesterday.
“I just received the devastating news about the Resolute Forest Products’ decision to halt operations at its specialty paper machine at its mill in Fort Frances affecting 150 workers.
“My concerns are with the workers and their families, and hope for a quick resolution and restoration of these jobs.
Attending a funeral in the Far North, Campbell pledged to make the Resolute Forest Products’ job loss issue her first priority upon her return.
Xavier Van Chau, director of communications and corporate social responsibility for Resolute, said the duration of this latest shutdown is indefinite but it will be at least two months.
“We’re not clear at this time,” he remarked. “It’s really contingent on the groundwood specialty printing grades market.
“But at this time, we expect it to last throughout at least the first quarter [of 2014].”
Van Chau clarified that although about 150 employees received layoff notices yesterday, about 60 staff—including stationary engineers, maintenance employees, salary employees, and woodland employees—will continue to work at the local mill.
“Those people are staying on and we’re going into asset protection mode for the facility because we really are trying to look for opportunities for repositioning the facility, both from the pulp side as well as the energy side,” he stressed.
“We’ve already been reaching out to community contacts, provincial government contacts, and business partners to see what would be possible.
“It’s a tough business decision but when we can’t operate the mill profitably, these things are necessary decisions,” Van Chau continued.
“We’ll try to work diligently because we want to keep as many people as possible from our workforce at the mill.
“At the same time, the company is looking at opportunities for expanding its lumber capacity in Ontario,” he added.
“There’s going to be opportunities there, as well, and we want to try to keep people as we look for opportunities to reposition the mill.”