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One-year anniversary of strike marked at waferboard firm.

One-year anniversary of strike marked at waterboard firm

Striking workers at Nordfibre in North Bay have been on the picket line for more than a year and are no closer to signing a contract than they were a year ago.

Eighty hourly workers walked off the job on Sept. 27 1989 to protest what Canadian Paperworkers Union Local 870 president Art Campbell described as the company's desire to "gut the existing labor agreement." At that time the waferboard manufacturer announced plans for a two-year wage freeze and a roll-back of some employee benefits.

The latest set of contract negotiations, which took place on Aug. 29. proved to be fruitless. The session lasted just four hours.

The August session was the first time the two sides had met at the bargaining table since negotiations broke down in February. The employees had been working without a contract since November 1988.

"They (the union Local) absolutely refuse to give us any concessions, so we decided that we had other work to do," insisted Jeanne Koselek, Nordfibre's general manager.

The latest offer by the company contained only one change to the offer made in February, said Koselek. To counteract the rollback in wages, the company offered to pay the employees 75 per cent of its before-tax profits on a quarterly basis.

"The reason Mr. (Frank) Orsi offered that," said Koselek, "is because the union claims the company is making profits. They turned that down flat."

Koselek reported that the company is losing revenues of between $120,000 and $150,000 each month. The plant has been shut down since the strike began.

In a previous interview, owner Frank Orsi reported that Nordfibre lost approximately $2 million annually in the past few years because of the economic climate.

The union and the company are still far apart on all issues. Neither side has any idea when it will sit down at the bargaining table again.

Provincial Ministry of Labour mediator Alan Heritage had called the Aug. 29 meeting in an effort to settle the dispute. However, according to Koselek, "they (the ministry) are just wasting the taxpayers' money." She said the union members have stated they have no intention of returning to work.

Campbell disputed Koselek's comment. He said the company's profit-sharing offer was little incentive to a 33-year-old employee who has been on the picket line for more than a year.

Campbell claimed that the company brought only one proposal to the table on Aug. 29.

They want us to go back to work for half the amount of money we were making in 1987. I made $11 per hour then, and they want me to work for $5.50 now," insisted Campbell.

Campbell said the union took a conciliatory approach to the Aug. 29 meeting, and it made six proposals.

He said the union members offered to return to work long enough to collect unemployment insurance. The company would then lay off employees until the market recovered sufficiently to hire them back, at which time Nordfibre would implement a 10-per-cent wage increase retroactive to the date the employees returned to work.

"We haven't had an increase since 1987," added Campbell.

Campbell attributed the company's lack of enthusiasm for this proposal to Orsi's financial situation.

Koselek disputed Campbell's claim.

The strikers marked their first anniversary on the picket line on Sept. 27 with a party at the West Ferris Centre.
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Title Annotation:Nordfibre
Author:McDougall, Douglas
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Oct 1, 1990
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