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Crofton paper mill workers anxious over another delayed restart

Paper Excellence announces 30-day delay in restarting mill for third time
The Catalyst paper mill in Crofton was acquired by Paper Excellence in 2019.

Unionized workers at the Paper Excellence paper mill in Crofton are getting increasingly anxious over a delayed restart of the mill.

In May, Paper Excellence said it would curtail the mill for the month of June, citing market conditions for the curtailment, according to Unifor, which represents 91 paper mill workers there.

But the company keeps extending the shutdown by one month, the union says.

The mill was expected to restart at the beginning of September. But Unifor Local 1132 says it was informed by the company on August 28 that the restart would be delayed by at least another 30 days.

“This is the third time Paper Excellence has announced a shutdown extension since May 2023, when a 30-day curtailment was planned,” the union said in a press release.

"The last thing forestry workers need right now is more uncertainty," said Unifor Western Regional Director Gavin McGarrigle. "Our members need to know when they'll be back on the job. Workers don't have the luxury of curtailing their bills."

Pulp and paper mill workers in B.C. have good reason to worry about indefinite or temporary closures becoming permanent. Since 2020, a number of sawmills have been permanently shuttered in B.C., and these closures have begun to drag pulp and paper mills down with them. (Pulp and paper mills rely on sawmills for much of their fibre in the form of wood shavings and sawdust.)

Paper Excellence permanently closed its Mackenzie pulp mill in 2020, and in 2021 announced an indefinite closure to its Tiskwat paper mill in Powell River. On August 16, Paper Excellence confirmed that that closure is now permanent. 

Canfor (TSX:CFP) also announced plans to permanently shut down its pulp line in Prince George by the end of this year.

In January this year, Paper Excellence announced it would recall 100 workers to its Catalyst paper mill at Crofton, following investments by the B.C. and federal government of $19 million. The company had earlier announced it would shutter the paper mill, due to high input costs and declining markets in China, but maintain its pulp line.

With the supports offered by the provincial and federal governments, Paper Excellence announced it would invest $50 million to retool one of its paper making machines to make paper products that replace single-use plastics and recall 100 workers that had been laid off.

"A few months ago, the company stood beside federal and provincial government representatives to announce nearly $70 million in combined investments for the Crofton mill and it is beyond disappointing that a restart is being delayed yet again," Unifor National President Lana Payne said in a news release.

“I urge the company to set a reasonable timeline for a restart and commit to it for the sake of the workers and their families."