Monday, May 14, 2012

Hazards of Work

With all that's occurred over the last few months, especially with all the discussion over the new contract with a 10% pay reduction and other concessions that just took effect on May 1, I'm happy to finally be on my 22 days off and able to get away from it all.

This last set of 9 tours working has seemed long to me and the contract has not been the only source of stress for me. That new, yellow hazard assessment form causes me some grief, not because I don't think it has value (it does in the right circumstances), but because I highly dislike what seems to be a need for statistical numbers on the part of the company. When people are getting pressured to produce a certain number of yellow sheets each month, something is very wrong in my book. While not always a supporter of the company's safety programs or decisions, I am highly invested in safety, especially at the line level where I work and breathe. So, a numbers game just cheapens safety in my book and I am intent on refusing to be a part of that.

However, I think that the forms can be put to good use in those circumstances where a job is faced that is unusual in scope or location. This may mostly affect maintenance, but many have been utilizing some form of hazard assessment for years and this just brings an added tool. (Again, unfortunately, it may just be a numbers game for the company and that brings a negative aspect to the whole thing.) I do worry that in operations there is an attempt to use it as a job safety breakdown review. I think reviews would be a good thing, but I don't think the hazard assessment form is the proper tool for this.

So, I've resisted and argued and that has been a mild source of additional stress for me so I'm very happy to be out of there for three weeks. I'm looking forward to hauling the trailer to the Nanaimo area and spending the next little while just relaxing around a campfire.

Until I return, stay safe, don't let all the distractions and anger and annoyances be a risk to your health and safety. Easy words to say, but keep focused for your sake.


Thursday, April 19, 2012

Is There Life After Print?

Wow, how time can fly. I was trying to post something every week and I look and it's over a month since the last post. Guess it's because I don't have much to say. I think we're all just kind of waiting to see what happens with the bondholders and now the date has been put off for a few extra days. I think every thing will work out, but, as I said to someone the other day, my crystal ball has never been known for accuracy otherwise I would have invested in Apple a few years ago.

Among the too many blogs I monitor is Dead Tree Edition and since I have little to say, here's a link to today's post called Is There Life After Print? Yeah, Maybe at a Community College.


Saturday, March 17, 2012

Doing Our Part

It's good to see that all of the locals have done their part in this whole thing with Catalyst and the bondholders. It is never an easy thing to be forced into accepting concessions, but, unfortunately, the alternatives looked considerably worse for everyone.

Yes, ticketed maintenance and steamers have an option to relocate and possibly do quite well. But, it can still be a huge inconvenience to relocate, or find a camp job, or find a rental unit, and travel on a regular basis. Money might be better in the oil fields, but additional costs can eat up a lot of that, plus the hours away from family, plus the hours on planes flying in and out.

It still might be something I do down the road, but I'm happy that hopefully, I don't have to do it right now. It's nicer to be able to come home after each shift.

Let's hope the company has a viable plan that the courts will approve.

A big thanks to all of our wage delegates plus all the other wage delegates at the other mills for the work they have done under very difficult circumstances. And good job to the membership for doing what, in my opinion, was the right thing, as distasteful as it was to all of us.


Wednesday, March 07, 2012

The Future is Now

I honestly don't think many are reading this blog, but to those who continue to read, thanks, and drop a comment from time to time. Yes, I have to approve them and I don't like anonymous comments, but I do like to know your opinions and thoughts, provided they are expressed in a civil manner.

My wife and I had a great time down in Mexico and hope to return yearly. I had to keep reminding myself that it was February. Following that we enjoyed some time with family in Vernon. It was a bit of a contrast for sure, but it always nice to see kids and grandkids.

I started back to work a couple of days early starting on Saturday past. I have to say that four day shifts in a row is somewhat tiring for my old body. I am actually looking forward to night shift tonight.

Of course, still on all of our minds surrounds what's going to happen with the company in CCAA protection. It sounds like they may want further cost saving concessions. The fear I have is that if concessions get too deep, we may not be able to keep enough ticketed people to keep the mill running.

I am clearly a part of that group and, being at an age where I could take early retirement and go somewhere else I would have to consider all of my options. I have not yet created my resume (or CV as I see often used now) but it is on my list of things to do quickly. I have enjoyed much in the way of benefits working for this company over the years but I am not prepared to live with too much in the way of concessions that reduce my take home pay and/or vacation time. I know there are many others who are feeling the same way and only time will tell how many will opt out of working here versus heading to the oil fields or other places.

It's a difficult situation we all find ourselves in and it is my sincere hope that a way can be found to keep the company afloat and the mill running. Patience has always paid off for me in the past and that's all any of us can do right now. Of course, we have never been in this particular situation before so it is all new at this point. I do have utmost confidence in our wage delegates and the delegates of the other CEP locals to come away with the best possible deal they can, but they may not have a whole lot of choices available to them. Let's remember that when they come home with a new contract, whether bad or not so bad.


Saturday, February 11, 2012

Shutdowns and Holidays

This will be the last post for two or three weeks since I am moving back to C crew in time to take my 22 days off with them. Over the last couple of years I've gone from C to E crew for a while to provide relief in the Assistant Shift Engineer position, then back to C crew for a bit then to D crew to again provide relief. Now, with the retirement of Al Lowe, I am moving back to C crew as ASE. So, I start my 22 days off tomorrow and my wife and I fly to Cancun on Tuesday to celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary that happened in January. I'm looking forward to it since it is our first time going to a warm climate in the middle of winter and I'm looking forward to sun and surf.

On everyone's mind is the 4-5 day shutdown that was just recently announced. The biggest thing I don't understand about it is that, while it will take production out of the picture, I have to ask at what cost? I've been around for a long time and is seems to me that most shutdowns in the past usually resulted in a lot of problems on start up. Maybe it won't be the same this time with all the work that has been done to improve efficiencies, but I have my doubts. I guess we'll just have to wait and see. And hope there's no cold snap.

Another thing that seems to be floating around is the thought that once again, we seem to get targeted even though, in this case, we went along with the whole plan. I understand the sentiment, but if the market curtailment is to reduce coated paper inventory, then it pretty much had to be us. It's too bad, because most can't help but feel picked on, especially after the great improvements in machine efficiencies this past month.

And, behind it all sits this whole CCAA thing and I can't help wonder if this curtailment is just another pawn being moved on the chessboard. Don't know about you, but I'm getting a bit weary of it all. But, they say patience is a virtue so I guess we just have to try and be virtuous. And wait. Again.

All the best to my good friend Al on his retirement. I'll miss our conversations around a variety of topics (although it mainly seemed to be religion and global warming lately). Have a great life and hope to see you around from time to time.

Hasta la vista everyone. See you in 22.


Sunday, February 05, 2012

Response to an anonymous comment

A comment from anonymous in a previous post requires a comment from me since I allowed the anonymous comment to be posted. (Although, that's the last one because if one is going to make a comment and throw an unjustified shot out there, they need to have the courage to put their name to their opinion.)

Here's what he/she said, "Yeah sell the farm, take huge concessions and screw the rest of the unionized pulp workers in B.C. thanks"

So, my quick response is that under CCAA, I don't think there are a whole lot of options for the unionized worker. While a contract would still have to be negotiated, if the contract doesn't satisfy the judge then (I think) further concessions can be ordered. Options might also include the shut down and sell off of assets and other things I can't even imagine. (Don't quote me on any of this. I am neither a lawyer, or a finance guy. I'm just a Steam guy with an opinion and someone who likes to spend more than he makes.) (I was going to reference what happened with AbitibiBowater but I don't have enough information to make a legitimate comparison. There is this report and this statement from CEP but that's all I can find quickly.)

No unionized employee of Catalyst Paper has any intention of screwing the rest of the unionized pulp workers in B.C. While the contract we did negotiate had some minor concessions, I doubt it would have had a big impact on other workers in B.C whose companies are not in the financial situation that Catalyst faces. That contract, of course, is now null and void because all the restructuring requirements were not met.

My hope is that it will serve as a basis for any future contract that gets decided in the courts. It was a way better option than some of the other contracts out there. If more concessions are demanded then I guess the membership will have to decide if they still want a job or not. And that's pretty much the bottom line, like it or not.

If the contract we end up with is too bad, the mills could still be in trouble if they lose too many Steam tickets and/or maintenance workers. (I'm in that group and I will certainly be weighing my options.)


Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Into the Unknown

Catalyst Paper has announced that they will be filing for creditor protection under CCAA since conditions were not met in order to proceed with the consensual recapitalization transaction. Here's a quote from the press release:
The company previously announced a consensual recapitalization transaction under the Canada Business Corporations Act (CBCA) that had the support of certain of the holders of the company’s 11% senior secured notes due 2016 and 7 3/8% senior notes due 2014 who were parties to a Restructuring and Support Agreement (Agreement). The Agreement provided that, among other conditions, the recapitalization transaction was subject to the following two conditions being met by January 31, 2012: (a) a new labour agreement ratified by all six union locals at the company’s BC mills and (b) two-thirds support of all 2014 and 2016 noteholders. Since these conditions will not be met, the company will not be proceeding with a recapitalization under the CBCA.


Monday, January 30, 2012

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Now What?

With the PPWC local in Crofton rejecting the proposed contract, it seems, if what we have been told is 100% true, that we had better brace ourselves to go through door number 2 with all the accompanying risks.

Unless the company has another ace up their sleeve that we haven't been privy to. I guess this will make all those who have been so vocal about re-voting, or nitpicking about the various dates that have been bandied around, extremely happy.

Me? I think we just entered some dangerous and treacherous waters. I may be retiring earlier than I planned.


Friday, January 27, 2012

The Importance of Clarity

One of the (too) many blogs I follow is Dead Tree Edition, a blog that addresses issues around the paper and printing industries. Catalyst does get mentioned from time to time and the recent filings they made got a post all to its own. It seems their statement caused some confusion out there in the real world. I think we kinda, sorta know what's going on regarding the possible reorganization, but even our knowledge is limited and we'll just have to be patient to see how it all plays out.

On another related issue, it appears that Crofton is prepared to vote on a new deal tomorrow. We'll have to see how that goes. Rumors are flying that they got a better deal but I won't give that any credit until I see it in print. There is always the possibility that there are some major differences in local agreements but that is true of us and Powell as well. For instance, our local agreements deal with the A4 agreement and probably a few other differences that other mills don't have. I think that if there are any benefits that we should all have there shouldn't be a big issue in consolidating those with the other mills. If, by some stretch, they have achieved a better main wage deal, then that certainly will have to be revisited. We were assured, on more than one occasion, that the  main wage agreement would be the same across the board.

There seems to be some rumblings and discussion on the cancellation of the A4 agreement (should the restructuring go through). It seems many do not now like some of the resultant consequences. I'm not sure who all was canvassed by the wage delegates prior to negotiating but I know there was a pretty clear message from a majority of tour workers to get rid of it. Of course, the main concern for tour workers was the 5 shift schedule and total absence of any discretionary time off. The tradeoff of the loss of pay for knowledge was fully expected by me but apparently not by many others. There are always tradeoffs when entering or leaving an agreement and we all need to think carefully before we start clamoring to get the A4 agreement back.

Since there are issues that affect everyone, it would be hard for me to justify that only tour workers should have a say in this, but, my main objection to the A4 agreement four years ago was the impact it had on the tour worker. I know a lot of steam plant guys want the freedom to schedule holidays again, despite the loss of pay for knowledge (and many in the steam plant are affected big time). So the cliche, "be careful what you ask for" is highly appropriate at this time. Also, we need to continue to think about each other and not just about ourselves. Hard to do, but I believe it to be a basic union principle and a basic principle of human life.

(As always, this post is entirely my own opinion and in no way reflects any official position of either Local 592, CEP or Catalyst Paper, Port Alberni Division.)


Friday, January 20, 2012

Easy and Hard Decision

I, along with many others, attended one of the meetings with the CEO the other day. I thought he did a good job of explaining everything and making the choices we all have relatively clear. Of course, there will always be questions that can't be answered to everyone's complete satisfaction but that is partly the nature of financial and economic dealings.

It is always a hard decision to make when we are asked to make some concessions in order to help a company along. The last time we made some concessions with the A4 agreement, I was as angry and opposed as some are to this new contract that we have already voted to accept. I have asked myself why this deal has been easier for me to support than the A4 deal and I think I have an answer.

The A4 had followed several attempts by the company to get us to "cooperate" with them. In those negotiations their idea of cooperation was to do it completely their way with their concessions and there was no real bargaining. In addition, the company had shut down #4 Paper Machine and it gave every appearance of our mill being targeted and I didn't like it and was prepared to see the mill closed permanently.

Perhaps that was wrong, but it was the position that seemed right for me to take at the time and I make no apologies for it. The primary concession I didn't like was the hit the tour workers took, even though I wasn't working shifts at the time. Subsequently, things opened up back in the Steam Plant and I voluntarily went back on shift even with the move to the 5 shift schedule.

Anyway, that was then, and this is now. How is this one different? Primarily, the difference is we are all being asked the same thing. No one mill has been targeted, and we are all being asked for the same concessions. In addition, the alternative of unprotected bankruptcy proceedings would, almost assuredly, impose a contract far worse than the one we have accepted. It's almost a no-brainer to me, and, while hard to accept concessions, it is an easy choice considering the options. So, I support it and will live with it, if it all happens. (C'mon Crofton, open your eyes.)

One other thing I don't quite get is the seeming anger over the fact that it didn't all get done by the end of December despite some rush for us to get it done. It's a minor thing to me and understandable considering all the complications involved in this sort of negotiation. Perhaps, the quick acceptance by us and Powell River even helped in the negotiations with the bond holders. So, we should pat ourselves on the back for being willing to accept a tough contract in order to avoid and even tougher one down the road.

My advice, for what it's worth, is let's get over it. We made the easy/hard decision and it's done and if the Crofton locals wake up and get on board then we can continue working to help keep this company running and providing us with good jobs in a warmer climate than northern B.C. or Alberta. The one thing I chose to do after the A4 agreement passed was to accept the democratic will of the membership and work to make sure the new agreement was followed. The membership has spoken again and we need to move on and get this company profitable again for as many years as any paper oriented business has left.


Monday, January 16, 2012

The Future of Print

I have noted with interest the recent articles put out by Catalyst indicating that more people prefer print publications than electronic media. I've kind of felt that the people writing these articles are kind of like ostriches with their heads in the sand. While the decline of print publications isn't happening as quickly as some seem to think, there is a definite downhill slide happening and I think that slide is increasing exponentially. I also think this will affect paper producers more than it will ultimately affect the actual print media producers and we are already seeing the some of the end results.

This post from the blog Dead Tree Edition talks about some of this and quotes Roman Hohol, director of the marketing practice for Forest Industry Consulting, who says:
I believe that most [paper] industry forecasts underestimate the impact of digital media on graphic paper demand, not wanting to appear too negative to their clients.We have developed an outlook for our clients that is quite negative.
I bought a Kindle last year. Has it decreased the number of books I buy? Pocketbooks, yes, although I haven't been reading that much of late. There are still books that I buy, mostly photography related books and I will continue to buy those types (usually printed, by the way, on coated paper).

I have never been a big reader of newspapers but I get the AV Times delivered daily to my house. I also get subscribe to, or buy two or three magazines a month. So I continue to support print media.

But, I recently acquired an iPad and though it has primarily just replaced what I used to do on my desktop computer (reading blogs, etc.), the potential exists to replace some of my magazine purchases. I have not done so yet due to slow downloads and I still kind of like to hold a magazine in my hands and flip through it, but it's probably coming. This may not impact the publishers of said magazines, but it will have an impact on paper producers, such as Catalyst, who I work for. (For example, one of the magazines I buy regularly for $5.99 is cheaper on the iPad by $1 or by $4 if I subscribe to it on a month by month basis. I can buy several more magazines if I choose and still spend less than I do buying 1 magazine.) So I guess that makes me disloyal or a traitor or something like that. I see it as just another tech step. There is just more information and more timely information on the web than there is in print, even a daily newspaper.

Am I an average user? Could be. I will say that the iPad is expensive (although I got mine with Air Miles) so while it is a big seller, people don't buy it just to replace their print media. That comes after, I think. But, the recently released Kindle Fire is a much more affordable tablet and while it is in no way comparable to the iPad (in my opinion), it is another tightening of the noose for paper producers.

I guess this all sounds kind of negative and I don't mean to be. I think paper products will still be around for many years, (some things are still easier to read in a paper format), but, we've been hearing for years that there is to much product being produced for the demand and only the strongest companies will survive. Hopefully, the moves that Catalyst is attempting will put them into the category of a strong company. Time will tell.

(What do you think? Please offer your opinions without any personal attacks on yours truly or other users of electronic media.)


Monday, January 02, 2012

What's New?

I see that a couple of people still check this blog out. I hope to start blogging again on a regular basis. We'll see how that goes. I recently "purchased" an iPad with air miles nd it's portability may aid in getting me back to blogging. This touchscreen keyboard is not real user friendly but, again, we'll see.

Finishing this up on the computer with a regular keyboard. I see that I posted 3 times in 2011 but nothing that really indicated what's been going on in my life. I indicated that I had stepped down from the Union executive at the end of 2009. I went back to the steam plant in April 2008 and in July 2009 I started working on my second class steam ticket thanks to a special program set up by Powell River. I completed that and got my ticket in June 2011. Since then, I have just been doing mindless stuff like racing games on the PS3. But it is time to get myself back into some more productive stuff.

So my goals (not resolutions) for 2011 involve getting back (for real) to an exercise program, doing a project with my photography hobby (I enjoy taking snapshots of my grandkids, but I want to do something on a more formal basis. I have some ideas, but we'll see.) And possibly getting back to some blogging time, if there is a cause.

I hope to avoid the political but much is happening within Catalyst Paper so I won't avoid that. Look for an upcoming post on recent events.

So, let's see if I can get this started again and regain some readership. It looks like a couple still visit so, if I stay more consistent than three a year, pass it on.


Monday, July 11, 2011

Happy Birthday, Neptune

Here is something from my blog and newsletter reading that I found interesting and thought I would share. On Tuesday, July 12, the planet Neptune will have completed one full orbit of the sun since it's discovery in 1846. Read Happy Birthday, Neptune! for more information.

Astronomy has long interested me and I find the distances and years quite amazing so this fascinates me to some extent. Let me see what I can recall since Neptune was discovered. I don't know my history that well from the 1800s but there have been many discoveries, many advances and wars, more wars and still more wars since then.

My grandfathers, grandmothers, my wife's grandparents and parents, my father, have all come and gone pretty much in the 20th century, years after the discovery of Neptune. Two-thirds of my own life has come and gone, all while Neptune has made it's way on it's long, lonely journey around the sun. An orbit of roughly 165 years. It's next birthday will be sometime in 2176, just in time for the 400th anniversary of the U.S.