Shutdown Hits Pulp Mill in Terrace Bay

By Lynne Brown – Special to FirstLocalNews

(L to R)  District 6 Staff Representative

United Steelworkers Union, Cody Alexander; Stephen Downey, President Local 665 USW; David Mayry, Financial Secretary Local 665 UCW. Downey has worked at Mill for 13 years &  Mayry has been there for 22 years. Downey said “We’ll fight to the end.”

Cody Alexander, United Steelworkers Union staff representative District 6, is not mincing words.

He is voicing the same‘sentiment’ that is hanging over communities from Marathon to Jackfish, to Terrace Bay to Schreiber to Pays Platt, to Nipigon and beyond.

“We need answers and the Company has yet to give us anything to work with. Nothing. We don’t know if there is an interested buyer, what the state of the Mill is presently. We’re all shocked and dumbfounded about what the Company did”

The company Cody Alexander is speaking about is Aditya Birla Group which, since 2012, have operated the AV Terrace Bay Kraft Pulp Mill. On January 4th, 2024, the company issued about 400 layoff notices. The Mill located in Terrace Bay, was put into temporary shutdown or ‘idleing’ mode.

On Wednesday January 3rd there were rumours circulating about ‘something going on at The Mill. The next day, workers were sent to clean out their lockers, pack up and go home. Out the gates. A mass exodus.

A media release posted to AV Terrace Bay Inc. website states:

“AV Terrace Bay announces temporary idling of its pulp operations, with immediate effect, due to prevailing market conditions. The announcement will affect approximately four hundred employees. The facility, located on the north shore of Lake Superior, produces 320,000 Air Dry Metric Tons of Northern Bleached Softwood Kraft (NBSK) pulp. The mill will be put into a state of warm idle to facilitate a possible future restart.”

Communication to the ‘outside’, to workers, to union reps, to media, to stakeholders, township & First Nation Councils & elected officials from affected communities has not been forthcoming.

The shockwave continues to reverberate around several hundred square kilometers of northwestern Ontario pulp and paper forest and the populations contained therein. And that includes the huge workforce (with myriad industry sectors affected) and residents who call the varied small towns and rural locales home.

The Mill has been moved into something called ‘warm idling’.

Cody Alexander explained that ‘warm idling’ doesn’t translate to robust maintenance teams working to keep the Mill in top running order. Not by a longshot. And that’s one of the things top of mind for him as he relates the Mill’s current status to what a potential buyer might find.

“We still don’t know what the issue is. The actual issue that ‘temporarily’ shuttered the Mill so swiftly and abruptly. Without that knowledge we are left with rumours and speculation. And that is not good for our members, for both unions represented at the Mill. The electrical union workers , IBEW , and the USW , and of course, the greater communities that are now left wondering what happened “.

Alexander went on to say that, it is his understanding that there are about 30 workers left inside the Mill. “The longer this goes on,the harder it will be to start back up again.”

Alexander emphasized that pulp prices are not dire. “Market pressures can’t be the top reason for shuttering the Mill. There has to be more going on, but again, we just don’t know.”

“Right now, our first concern is for the members, their families and the communities where they live.” stressed Alexander. “The union would like to get an assessment of the Mill in it’s current state, but management has not been forthcoming, which leads to more rumours and speculation.”

Alexander said he and all the stakeholders deserve an opportunity to be heard and to be made aware of what has led to this sudden ‘idling’ scenario.

“We need to know what is being discussed in the background. We were given no notice. Under normal circumstances, the Union(s) would be consulted prior to anything of this magnitude happening. As a union, we could have looked at something, some way to support the workers that would potentially help the Company to keep production. But we were not. It’s not fair, and its unethical”.

Terrace Bay Mayor Paul Malashewski said,

“Over the last few weeks, Council and Administration have been working diligently everyday to find a quick solution to the shutdown of AV Terrace Bay. We realize the impact that it has on both families and the communities of all those affected. We have been in contact with senior levels of government and are pushing them for a quick and timely end to this shutdown.”

MPP Lise Vaugeois has been working to get the Mill situation front and centre with colleagues at Queen’s Park since the lay-off notices went out.

On her most recent trip to Terrace Bay / Schreiber, she had the leader of the Official Opposition Marit Stiles with her. On Wednesday, January 17th MPP(s) Stiles and Vaugeois attended a meeting of stakeholders at the Terrace Bay township building after going on a tour of Terrace Bay.

MPP Stiles said that she now has a better understanding of the risks that come with letting the ‘temporary’ shut down drag on.

“We have to do something and we have to do it quickly,” she said. “We urgently need the government to step in. We need to know whether this is really an issue of the company wanting to sell the Mill. Or are they looking at what they need to do to get going again. Because this Mill cannot close.”

Stiles said her trip to Terrace Bay was very beneficial to understanding the impact “of this very serious situation”.

Both MPP Vaugeois and NDP leader MPP Stiles have emphasized the urgency of the situation.

“This is devastating news.” shared Vaugeois in a statement released immediately after layoff notices were issued.

“The Mill employs hundreds of workers and has been an anchor employer for communities along the North Shore as well as communities along Highway 11 for many years.It is disappointing that there is no indication of when the mill could start up again.”

Vaugeois is “urging the company to keep the lines of communication open with the workers and their unions, USW Local 665 and IBEW Local 1861, along with local councils and government officials, so that people aren’t left hanging without the ability to make informed decisions.”

In a Jan 17th statement following meetings with local stakeholders in Terrace Bay, MPP Vaugeois spoke further about the urgency of the matter.

“What I have taken away from our meetings is that we need to get the Mill back up and running as soon as possible.  Our communities cannot afford any delays.  Even two weeks down, without information on long-term prospects, has been devastating for workers and local businesses. The Mill is economically viable with the right people and support in place and we need to take an all-party, all of government approach to quickly get the mill up and running again.  Marit Stiles and I will continue to do whatever we can to support the well-being of our Northwestern Ontario communities.”

As District 6 Staff Representative

United Steelworkers Cody Alexander stated it, “There’s no telling how many people will end up leaving, they already are. We need that Mill up and running. Pronto.”

In the meantime, we’re left with rumours and ‘idle’ speculation.


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