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Hope for settlement fading as strike drags into the eleventh month.

Hope for settlement fading as strike drags into the eleventh month

Striking workers at Nordfibre in North Bay hold little hope for a settlement as they enter their 11th month on the picket line.

When contacted in mid-August, Canadian Paperworkers Union (CPU) Local 870 president Art Campbell said that efforts to sit down with the company have proven fruitless and that he expects the employees will remain on strike for "a long time to come."

However, at press time it was announced by Campbell that a provincial mediator had scheduled a meeting for Aug. 29.

The 80 unionized workers at the North Bay operation walked off the job on Sept. 27 1989 when the fibreboard manufacturer announced a two-year wage freeze and the roll-back of several employee benefits.

It all started when the company decided "to gut the existing labor contract. It would entitle them to get rid of the union," said Campbell.

Prior to the walkout, employees at Nordfibre had been working without a contract since November 1988.

Campbell said the union had made efforts to avoid a dispute. However, negotiations faltered at every turn.

"All we got was a 'no' from the company," he said.

Campbell claimed the employees had offered to work under the previous contract for an additional year.

"We offered to leave the contract the way it was, but (owner Frank) Orsi just threw it across the table at us," he said.

Orsi disagreed with the claim. He said the union is unwilling to consider any of the proposals that the company has brought to the bargaining table.

"Whatever we say, we (the two sides) don't connect."

Orsi claimed it was the union's position on the company's proposals which led to the strike.

According to Orsi, Nordfibre asked for a wage freeze but offered up to a $2-per-hour raise for some employees.

Campbell said the union countered with an offer of a 10-per-cent wage increase for all employees over the next two years and a reinstatement of all lost benefits.

The union president claimed the employees were willing to work without wage increases or added benefits prior to the strike because they realized the demands were not feasible for the company. However, he said the company responded with offers which affected employee seniority and health-care benefits.

"It (the offers) amounted to a page-by-page deletion of our contract book," said Campbell.

"The old contract was abused and misused," responded Orsi.

The Nordfibre owner said the company is willing to resolve the current situation.

The last set of talks with CPU Local 870 broke down in February. Neither Orsi nor Campbell was optimistic that future talks can resolve the dispute.

Campbell reported that since June 1989, the company and the union have been to the bargaining table on five separate occasions and the results has been negative each time.

Campbell claimed that, during talks held at Christmas, Orsi requested "both sides tear up their existing proposals and start fresh." However, when bargaining resumed, the company's offer hadn't changed.

Campbell said the workers are still willing to return to work under the previous contract, but Orsi has refused the offer.

"As far as I'm concerned, the contract is dead," said the owner.

Orsi reported that Nordfibre has lost appriximately $2 million annually because of the economic climate of the past few years. However, it was losing even more money while operating under the previous union contract.

"If they work, it costs me more," Orsi said.

Orsi further claimed that, as a result of the strike. "We have lost all our clients. Now we have to start from scratch."

The plant has been shut down since the strike began.
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Title Annotation:News and Features; Nordfibre: Canadian Paperworkers Union
Author:McDougall, Douglas
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Sep 1, 1990
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