With an anticipated May 31 start date, McKenzie Forest Products has a lot to accomplish in a short time.
The Hudson mill is due to reopen with 1 shift, and a staff of approximately 80 people.
With previous union contracts still valid, all employees returning at this time will be former McKenzie staff. Employees negotiated a new collective agreement with the owners, Buchanan Forest Products, in 2008 prior to the last closure of the Hudson mill. Employees accepted a $2 an hour pay cut during the last shut down in exchange for 525 more hours of employment. This would create the ability for the employees to file for Employment Insurance. This agreement is still valid, and closer to the end of the year, employees will be receiving $1 of this back.
Mill manager Don Fenelon is currently undertaking the task of tracking down the previous employees, and attempting to compile a list of who is available. Seniority is the major factor in who gets chosen for the first round of callbacks. Once the initial legwork is completed, formal letters will be sent out to employees, with McKenzie’s intentions, and requests for return. At this time, the Hudson Mill will not be accepting resumes from any new applicants, as they are ensuring their former staff is taken care of first.
“It’s not fair to new applicants to take their resume and then leave it sitting on my desk for 6 months because we can’t do anything with it.” says Fenelon.
When asked why Buchanan has chosen now to reopen the mill, Fenelon replies, “The dollar is going to stay where it is for a while. We’re going to have to learn to live with it. The further we go along with the mill closed, the more employees we are going to lose. It was time.”
Buchanan Forest Products has had several grievances filed regarding the lack of severance and termination pay being issued amongst their 9 mills. Hudson mill is no stranger to this problem as well. Although, the mill is due to restart, these issues still need to be dealt with. Fenelon commented “We had issues with it, (lack of severance and termination pay) and that’s currently being worked on. Hopefully it’s all ironed out before we get started.”
Some of the local contractors who have been cutting wood continuously throughout the mill closure, will now divert some of their cut product back to Hudson. McKenzie will also be utilizing another larger contractor who has previously worked for Buchanan Forest Products. McKenzie still holds the Lac Seul Forest Licence, and will be accepting approximately 400-500 cord of wood daily.
McKenzie plans on increasing to two shifts at some point, but there is no specific date set at this time. It is the intention of management to ensure the jobs of the first 80, and keeping the mill open and running for a longer term, instead of trying to bring everyone back, running two shifts, and there be the potential for another layoff.
Rumors had spread previously that McKenzie had sold a majority of its mechanical inventory. When asked the validity of this, Fenelon replied “No, that is all just rumor. Everything is intact, and it’s just a matter of waiting for people to come in and do some maintenance prior to starting up.”
Long term plans for the Hudson mill have not yet been completely identified, as right now, McKenzie would like time to “regroup themselves”.
Fenelon states, “We still have to look at the long term plans that we had prior to shutting down, which included some expansions and updates to keep up with the times.”
There is talk of Buchanan reopening its Terrace Bay Pulp Mill and Long Lake Forest Products in Longlac before the end of May. Longlac is to start with 80 employees, and Terrace Bay is looking towards a 24/7 operation a short time after restarting.