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Majority of workers vote to accept contract deal with pulp and paper company

PORT HAWKESBURY, N.S. – More than 85 per cent of union members at an idled Nova Scotia paper mill voted Tuesday to accept a contract deal from the operation’s prospective buyer.

Archie MacLachlan of the Communications Energy and Paperworkers union said that 85.6 per cent of those who voted accepted the offer from Pacific West Commercial Corp.

“We asked for them to vote for it and 85 per cent is a good endorsement of the recommendation,” he said following the late vote, adding that not all will be working at the mill if it reopens.

“It’s a sad time for a lot of people as well because they know there’s only one machine starting up.”

The deal offered by the company would see the layoff off about 320 employees of the 550-member workforce because it will only operate one of two papermaking machines at the NewPage mill in Point Tupper.

The mill closed in September as it struggled with soaring electricity and shipping costs, a strong Canadian dollar and declining demand.

The union executive initially took no position on the offer, but recommended acceptance after the company gave it new information clarifying seniority and recall rights, among other things.

The Nova Scotia government has made up to $30 million available to support forestry operations and keep the NewPage Port Hawkesbury mill in a so-called hot-idle state so it can be quickly restarted.

Marc Dube, a spokesman with Pacific West Commercial Corp., said he was pleased the deal was accepted and they can get on with reopening the mill.

“We’re obviously very excited with such a strong endorsement of a commitment to want to work with us,” he said.

“We want a partnership with the people here and we got a clear indication that they want to be our partner.”

Dube said they’re working on finalizing an energy solution for the mill, while working with the province to make sure there’s an adequate wood supply.

Dube said they are also facing a Utilities and Review Board hearing in late June or early July, with the possibility that the mill could reopen in August if all outstanding matters are settled.