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Mill talks still a no-go

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With a June 15 strike date approaching, no negotiations are slated yet between Abitibi-Consolidated Inc. and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers of Canada.

And that has all the union locals with Abitibi planning to meet next Friday to discuss the situation.

Cecil Makowski, Ontario region administrative vice-president with the CEP, said the lines of communication are open but added the two sides have yet to come to the bargaining table.

“There’s no negotiations planned at this time,” he said yesterday. “Although we remain optimistic that we can get to the bargaining table.”

Makowski wouldn’t say if there had been any communications so far. “I’m not prepared to discuss that at this point,” he noted.

The union said it sent its demands to the company April 21 after it failed to show at the bargaining table. Key issues include a wage hike, benefits, and increases to the pension plan.

The stumbling block, the union claimed, is that the company wants to negotiate on a mill-by-mill basis while the union wants to bargain as one.

In related, negotiations are slated here June 9 and 10 with the two locals for the International Association of Machinists and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers respectively.

“We’ve been doing some local negotiations,” mill manager Jim Gartshore said yesterday, noting there were on-going negotiations with locals at the Fort Frances mill.

“We’ve met once with the CEP locals,” he added, noting that meeting took place late last month, with no other ones slated.

But Makowski said he wasn’t aware of those negotiations, noting as far as he knew, none of the CEP locals were doing any negotiating at the local level.

The contract here expired April 30.

CEP locals at the 11 Abitibi mills in Ontario, Quebec, and Newfoundland voted 95 percent in favour of strike action, with ballots being tallied May 20 in Ottawa.

If a contract is negotiated, it will be used as a pattern for negotiations between mills and some 25,000 unionized workers from Newfoundland to Manitoba.

But if there is a strike, the union vowed it would shut down Abitibi’s 11 mills.

“Our research indicates that the inventories are about normal,” Makowski added, noting that would mean enough paper supply for 40-60 days.

This is the first contract being negotiated since Abitibi-Price and Stone Consolidated merged in May, 1997.

Abitibi’s head office in Montreal could not be reached for comment by press time.

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