Friday, December 04, 2009

Podunk Below the Masthead, Thursday, December 3, 2009

The City's surprises continue at Watson Island as recently terminated maintenance workers take their case to the Labour board, the Daily reviews the end of the CN engineers strike and the Forest Minister isn't as enthusiastic about a positive outcome at Eurocan as he once was, some of the items of note for Thursday.

Daily News, Front page, headline story
FORMER WATSON WORKERS UNHAPPY WITH HANDLING OF SITUATION -- With the City now in charge of the Watson Island pulp mill site, recent decisions made by City staff have resulted in some backlash from the former maintenance employees on the site. Five members of PPWC have filed a submission with the BC Labour Relations Board, outlining their concerns at their termination by the City, replaced by contractors hired by the City to take care of the maintenance issues at the site

The Daily News reviews the announcement that a strike at CN Rail by the railroads engineers has come to an end as both sides came to an agreement on how to deal with some outstanding issues, most likely through the course of binding arbitration. Sharp eyed Podunkians will have discovered news of that development early in the hours of Thursday morning, with our blog posting here.

It's performance time at the Lester Centre, as Prince Rupert Secondary School's latest show takes to the stage, Thursday's paper featured a preview of the PRSS production of Footloose, which plays at the Lester Centre until Saturday night.

Figure skating and Charles Hays Basketball was the featured attraction in the Sports pages on Thursday.

(Daily News Archive Articles links for December 3rd )

The Northern View
No new items were posted to the Northern View website on Thursday

CFTK TV 7 News
Hazelton's Hockeyville Bid Now Number One in BC -- It's Hockeyville time again, as Canadians across the country will soon have the opportunity to vote for the first wave of potential homes for the title. The Hazelton's so far are leading the pack in submissions of BC communities hoping to move ahead in the process in January (see article here)

CFTK TV 7 News
Forests Minister "Less Hopeful" About Eurocan's Future -- Pat Bell's enthusiasm from his China trip seems to have faded a bit about any potential saviours for Eurocan from overseas, this while an employee led buyout proposal is making its way through the system (see article here)

CBC British Columbia, Daybreak North
No items for Tuesday were updated on the CBC Daybreak website

Daily News, Front page, headline story
Former Watson workers unhappy with handling of situation
By George T. Baker
The Daily News

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Former workers at the Watson Island mill site feel that they have not been treated fairly by City administration after the municipal government took over in September.

When the city repossessed the pulp mill site on September 29, the five members of Pulp, Paper and Woodworkers of Canada Local 4, who were kept on after the mill shut down to maintain the site, were told their services were not needed.

According to a submission by the PPWC to the BC Labour Relations Board on October 9, none of the five employees at the site were told beforehand that they would no longer be needed by either city administration or Sun Wave Forests Products, the mill site’s previous owner.

The city contends that they had no responsibilities to the employees at all and that the labour issue rests with Sun Wave.

Mayor Jack Mussallem said that the issue was thrust upon the city on very short notice and that it wasn’t clear at the time of the takeover what responsibilities the city had.

“There is some question, because it was a bankrupt facility and because it was taken at a point when taxes were unpaid, whether or not there is any carry over in the agreements for supplies or labour. The city is not in that business,” said Musallem.

Neither the city, Sun Wave or the PPWC deny the fact that there was no notice given to the employees.

PPWC local 4 representative Frank DeBartolo believes that the employees were not treated fairly during the transfer of property.

“There could have been a better way to do this. The whole process was not done in a justifiable manner,” said DeBartolo.

According to the submission, the employees scheduled to work at the mill on September 29 performed worked their shift under the assumption that they were still employees at the site.

They had continued to work at the site all day without notice of any changes until two city representatives arrived at 4:45 p.m. to inform employee Al Davis that he was to leave the premises immediately as he was no longer employed by the owner of the site.

Co-worker Don Movold, a PPWC electrician on the site, was not impressed with the way the workers were treated, especially Davis.

“The way they treated Al… you wouldn’t treat a dog as poorly, as far as I am concerned,” expressed Movold.

All five employees had twenty years of experience and included a laundry list of trades required on site: two electricians, one pipe fitter, one welder and one carpenter.

Mussallem said that he knew that the PPWC workers had a level of expertise, but countered that they were not the only ones with the applicable skills to work on site.

The city is paying an hourly rate for contractors, which the PPWC contends is higher than the rate they charged at $23 per hour.

“In the past, I think Sun Wave was paying an hourly rate plus benefits and a pension plan, “ said Mussallem.

There have also been concerns raised about how much money the City is spending month-to-month to keep the mill’s basic service level up.

Originally the city had envisioned a $74,000 price tag each month, but costs have risen to $100,000 per month to pay for utilities, repairs, environmental testing, 24-hour security and the monitoring of a waterline and the dams at Kloyia Creek and Diana and Rainbow Lakes.

“We are spending taxpayers money. And so the city is trying to secure the site and doing the minimal amount of work there to hold the property for sale and that is the city’s emphasis,” said Mussallem.

The city deadline for purchase proposals for the property is Dec. 15, less than two weeks away.

The sale will not include an adjacent four acres that are still owned by Sun Wave and Mussallem added that the city was not interested in retaining a partial ownership of the site once it is sold.
Movold said that should be a concern for the city, because there is caustic leakage on that property that could have serious environmental concerns for the harbour. The PPWC team used to monitor and maintain that leakage, but now it is unclear if Sun Wave is maintaining it properly.

“Who is keeping tabs on that?” asked Movold.

DeBartolo has not given up hope that something can be worked out between the workers and the city.

“I’m still hoping that we can solve this in an amicable manner and have our workers put back on the site,” said DeBartolo.

A hearing date for the PPWC has yet to be set at the BCLRB.

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