Northern Pulp workers finish final shifts as plant put in 'hibernation'
Published Friday, January 31, 2020 5:23PM AST Last Updated Friday, January 31, 2020 6:55PM AST
HALIFAX -- The majority of the approximately 230 unionized workers at the Northern Pulp mill finished their final shifts on Friday, with 60 employees remaining to put the Nova Scotia factory into "hibernation."
Don MacKenzie, the president of the Unifor local, says many of the approximately 170 laid-off workers were permitted to head home early on their last day.
He said some are bitter about the mill shutdown, believing the provincial Liberal government has created an unnecessary economic crisis.
Northern Pulp moved to mothball the mill after its plan for a new treatment system that would see it pump treated effluent into the Northumberland Strait was rejected by the province last month.
Premier Stephen McNeil said his government wouldn't extend a Jan. 31 deadline to stop the flow of effluent into a lagoon near Pictou Landing First Nation.
This week a ministerial order allowed for some effluent -- warm boiler water -- to continue until late April, as part of an "orderly shutdown," of the facility.
But this requires a much smaller workforce, MacKenzie said.
"It's a pretty sad day for the workers at the mill, the county and the province," he said.
The 56-year-old union leader said he remains hopeful that the mill will be maintained and that its owners will carry out a fresh environmental assessment followed by a return to operation.
"What we're seeing in here is a complete hibernation. Money is not being spared to protect these assets .... There's major dollars being spent in here to protect these assets and that gives us a positive feeling (the owner) wants to go with this and restart this mill," he said during a telephone interview from the factory.
The company said in a statement Thursday it will keep an unspecified number of workers on at the mill site over the next six months, saying the "hibernation plan" for the factory is on track to be completed by the end of April.
The closure of the current effluent facility was a promise McNeil made to the Pictou Landing First Nation, whose lands border the effluent lagoons.
The province said in a news release on Friday that forestry contractors affected by the closure of the Northern Pulp mill can apply for short-term repayable financing.
Last week, the government announced it was working with credit unions to deliver a program that could help forestry contractors with payments on their equipment loans on a short-term basis.
Eligible contractors include those who have been engaged in commercial forestry harvesting and trucking in Nova Scotia during the past 12 months.
"We are monitoring, listening and working hard to respond to needs of forestry workers and businesses as they look for new customers and adjust to the changing dynamics in the sector," McNeil said in a news release.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 31, 2020.