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Laid-off Terrace Bay mill workers appeal for support

The Steelworkers union says its members 'can't afford to wait' for answers.
Steelworkers local 665 recording secretary Michelle Richardson stands at the podium during a joint news conference with other union representatives and the NDP at Queen's Park on March 5, 2024

QUEEN'S PARK — A delegation representing laid-off workers at the Terrace Bay pulp mill travelled to Queen's Park on Tuesday "looking for some hope" that the mill will be restarted in the near future.

India-based Aditya Birla Group announced the indefinite shutdown of the mill in early January, and laid off close to 400 people.

The Steelworkers union, representing about 270 workers, says it's had no luck getting any information from the company about its plans.

Michelle Richardson, the recording secretary for local 665, made an emotional appeal at a news conference held jointly with the NDP.

"We are here to ask for the government's support to fight for us, to fight for our community and the people who work in the pulp mill. We can't afford to wait. The last time we were down – and this is the fourth time we've been through this – we were out of work for 18 months."

Richardson said some union members have just recently purchased homes, but have been given no indication whether or when the mill might resume production.

"We are getting no information from the company. We have no hope. We're looking for some hope. We need some help. We need somebody to communicate with us."

NDP leader Marit Stiles charged that the provincial government has given Aditya Birla "a free pass with millions in provincial grants without holding them accountable for keeping jobs in the region."

She said it's the government's job to work with municipalities and the federal government "to get the company to the table with these workers or find new ownership."

Thunder Bay-Superior North MPP Lise Vaugeois added that the closure of AV Terrace Bay isn't only impacting the workers directly involved, but is "setting off a chain reaction affecting local businesses across the region."

The NDP followed up the news conference with questions in the legislature while Steelworkers' officials watched from the visitors' gallery.

Stiles said the mill is a viable operation in a competitive industry, and suggested that if it were to shut down permanently, "somebody else is going to open a mill outside Ontario to do the same work."

Natural Resources Minister Graydon Smith replied that the government "will not stop in our efforts to get this mill open . . . We have been fighting through every single day, and the Opposition knows that they're taking advantage of the situation to play political theatre and political games once again. Meanwhile, we're working the phones. We're looking for the opportunities, we're looking for the operators."

He added that the government is making investments in forestry "to make sure that Terrace Bay and Schreiber and every community in the north can benefit," and referenced a recent announcement of a $60-million investment in biomass.

That brought a response from Vaugeois who said "The biomass projects have nothing to do with helping the workers in Terrace Bay," but Smith retorted "To say that biomass has nothing to do with what we're talking about in Terrace Bay is to fundamentally misunderstand how the forest industry works."

He said the NDP knows the government has been working behind the scenes since Aditya Birla idled the mill.

"It's a private-sector company that signed a horrible deal with the previous government. Big shocker there. But we want to get it going again, and we're going to continue to work for the people in Terrace Bay every single day."

A spokesperson for the minister said that following question period in the legislature, he had a meeting with the union representatives.

Gary Rinne

About the Author: Gary Rinne

Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Gary started part-time at Tbnewswatch in 2016 after retiring from the CBC
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