By Jon Thompson
A long-term labour deal has been struck that will allow the Ear Falls sawmill to open in the spring of 2014.
EACOM and Unifor have signed an agreement to increase workers’ wages 20 per cent over eight years, from a one per cent raise in 2014 to a 3.5 per cent pay bump in 2021. By the contract’s final year, top rates of pay for maintenance will reach $37 an hour and production rates will exceed $32 an hour.
Once operational, the industry will operate at full capacity. The union estimates as many as 125 of its members will have work at the sawmill site and up to 175 more will be employed in log harvesting and hauling operations.
“We have maintained an excellent working relationship with EACOM during this entire process and we are extremely pleased to have reached a solid, long-term deal that contains what may be some of the best language and compensation of any sawmill in Eastern Canada,” said Unifor national representative, Stephen Boon.
The sawmill closed in December 2009 under the collapse of the housing market in the United States. By 2010, the market was only 20 per cent of what it had been prior to the 2008 global recession.
When EACOM acquired the sawmill from Domtar in 2010, the province secured the softwood rights to 150 million board feet of stud lumber from the Trout Forest each year.
In October 2012, EACOM president Rick Dorman suggested the sawmill could start up in September 2013, provided that labour and supply needs were satisfied. With the American housing market projected to undergo between 1.2 and 1.6 million startups per year, EACOM is now certain a second quarter opening in 2014 will put Ear Falls back to work.
“The company is committed to reopening, said EACOM senior vice president of forest management and operations, Brian Nicks. “We have taken step already to hire people and the process of organizing a workforce in the woodlands as well as with contractors and respecting union agreements. This is for real.”
Ear Falls Mayor, Kevin Kahoot and his council have played a role in maintaining communications over past five years as ownership changes and refinancing have maintained optimism in the industry.
“In my opinion, it’s long overdue. It’s a good day for Ear Falls, it’s a good day for Unifor, it’s a good day for EACOM. It’s a good day for all three of us,” he said. “Ear Falls has been riding the rollercoaster of, ‘will the mill open? Will it not open? When will it open?’ so there’s a lot of optimism in the community today.”
From increased opportunities for local business to an increasing tax base for the municipality, Kahoot foresees the announcement will begin a shift in the town’s economic development and opportunity.
“It gets us back in a situation where we’re not in the ‘how do we cut? Where do we cut? With the downloading onto the municipalities, how do we lessen the burden on taxpayers?’ The game now changes to, we know what our revenues are going to be. There will be a time frame where things adjust for the next two years but we have not only mill revenue from taxes but we’re going to have housing starts again. We’re going to have people who have jobs.”
Key Terms of Deal
– Contract in place for 2014 spring start-up ending May 1, 2022
Wage Increases – 20% over 8 years
May 1, 2014 – 1%
May 1, 2015 – 1.75%
May 1, 2016 – 2%
May 1, 2017 – 2.5%
May 1, 2018 – 2.75%
May 1, 2019 – 3%
May 1, 2020 – 3.5%
May 1, 2021 – 3.5%
– $1.50/hour immediate raise for all top production jobs in sawmill and planer
– $1.00/hour immediate raise for mobile equipment operators in yard
– New DC Pension plan with up to 6% Employee / 6% Employer contribution match
– 100% Company paid drug, dental, disability and health coverage
– $.10 increase in shift differentials up to $.83/hour during term
– $750 annual tool allowance for trades
– $3250 annual Company payment to Local Union for training and social functions
– $200 Boot allowance
– $275 for prescription eye glasses
– 1 additional stat holiday
– strong language related to seniority, layoffs, postings, bumping and contracting out
– commitment to encourage first nations opportunities in sawmill and woodlands operations
– Unifor flag will fly at sawmill site with Union logo on all finished lumber packaging