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Fortunes reversed at White River mill.

A renewed sense of commitment by both management and workers has literally transformed the Domtar White River sawmill since its four-month strike in 1990.

After purchasing the sawmill from Abitibi-Price in 1985, Domtar poured millions of dollars into the White River facility. But the mill experienced problems that eventually culminated in a strike two years ago.

"Before the strike the sawmill was running on two shifts, but production was poor, there was a big turnover rate, there was difficulty in getting people to locate in White River, there were problems with the new equipment and we had a high accident frequency," recalls employee relations manager Dexter Adams.

Since the strike, employees and management have dedicated themselves improving the mill's performance and reputation.

"We've literally turned the place around," continues Adams. "Our turnover rate is next to zero now, and we're producing more on one shift now than we used to on two shifts. In fact, our daily production has doubled."

The mill received the award for the safest sawmill in Ontario last year from the Forest Products Accident Prevention Association. It has won the award for the most improved accident frequency for two years in a row.

Adams credits the quality improvement team established by management and labor for this success.

"We realize our employees are our greatest resource, and we value their input," explains Adams.

Sawmill superintendent Mel Jones agrees.

"We sense from our employees a great sense of commitment, ownership in the production process and job satisfaction," he says.

Jones says the mill's production has improved steadily because it is a matter of survival, with everyone fighting the same enemy - the recession.

The operation currently has 105 sawmill workers, 85 woodlands workers and 38 salaried staff for both operations. That compares with the pre-strike employment level of 145 mill workers, 140 woodlands workers and 60 salaried staff.

"The recession has been hard on the sawmills, and it's been difficult surviving," admits Jones. "But now we're also seeing sawmills working together to survive."

Jones says the White River mill has been purchasing rough green lumber from a second sawmill in Hornepayne.

"Working together has allowed them to survive, and it's allowed us to recall a dozen people back to work," explains Jones.

Woodlands manager Lorne Morrow says the White River mill has been forced to react to the downsizing of its woodlands operation.

"The woodlands has been downsized to 85 workers from 140, but we're producing about 80 per cent of what we did in the past."

All the chips from the Domtar White River mill are used in the production of linerboard at the Domtar Red Rock mill.

Adams says the sawmill is developing new markets, specifically the stud market for customers in the southern States.
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Title Annotation:Domtar Inc.'s sawmill in White River, Ontario
Author:Rapino, Robin
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Oct 1, 1992
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