Canadian Paper Mill Workers in Five-Month Strike Against Finnish-Owned Forest Products Giant

Paper mill workers in Miramichi, New Brunswick, have been on strike for more than five months against one of the largest forest product companies in the world, Finnish-owned UPM Kymmene. Their cause made headlines in mid-February when 300 workers defied an injunction and created mass picket lines.

Pickets had been limited to six at each of the mill's three gates, but workers reacted when UPM announced plans to remove a key machine from the mill.

UPM managers claimed that picketers would not let them leave the plant. The company delivered food and other supplies to the "trapped" administrators via helicopter, and duffel bags full of supplies were tossed over a chain-link fence.

In reality, says Local President A.J. Dowling, "the mass picket stopped all cars from entering and exiting the mill. But the UPM administrators were free to enter and exit by foot during those two days in fact, many did."


After the two-day "blockade" striker Alan Newcombe wrote to the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal that mill workers were fighting for their livelihoods and their community. "The problems at the picket lines are a byproduct of frustration and uncertainty" said Newcombe. "That's what it's about and the men who reacted with their hearts have nothing to apologize for."

Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Local 689, with 730 members, went on strike December 16 after contract negotiations broke down. UPM was refusing to stay within the terms of the East Coast Pulp Paper Pattern, a standard industry-wide agreement in place for over 30 years, and was demanding concessions: ending seniority for job postings, cutting pensions, and contracting out.



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To make matters worse, during contract talks UPM announced plans to close a portion of the facility, the kraft pulp mill, where wood is transformed into fiber, the main ingredient in paper production. Workers had been told a month before that the mill was making money. The closure could cost at least 150 jobs.


Dowling says that the company's attitude has been confrontational from the start of these talks. Five years ago, when UPM first bought the plant and undertook a restructuring, workers were encouraged to retire early with increased benefits. But this time around, UPM is taking a hard line on retirement packages.

Ninety-six percent of the members voted to strike and have continued to support the bargaining team by voting down UPM's offers.


Community support for the strike has been strong. A campaign to save the mill has the support of city councilors, other unions, and religious leaders. Forestry is the area's main industry.

Donations for the strikers, who are receiving $250 Cdn a week from the CEP National, have been flowing in. Teamsters at a sister company in Grand Rapids, Michigan have sent donations, as has the Paperworkers' Union in Finland.

As Labor Notes went to press, Finland�s entire paper industry was shut down by a two-day strike after efforts to reach a contract failed, and UPM retaliated there with a two-week lockout. Dowling will be attending the Finnish Paperworkers' Union Congress in Helsinki in early June, where he hopes to build international solidarity for both Canadian and Finnish workers battling UPM.