Northern Pulp, once a major force in Nova Scotia's forestry sector, has officially terminated its unionized workforce and told those 110 former employees they no longer belong to the company's pension plan.
The union that represents those workers, Unifor, called the decision disappointing and damaging to a group of employees "who have been their most ardent supporters."
"The impact on the workers is quite devastating," said Jennifer Murray, Unifor's Atlantic regional director.
"Imagine pouring your heart and soul into your work and supporting your employer, who you thought would support you back and your well-being in return," said Murray. "I can only imagine what this uncertainty is doing for our members, for their mental well-being."
The mill in Abercrombie, N.S., shut down operations four years ago after failing to convince the provincial Liberal government of Stephen McNeil to allow the company to continue to pump its effluent into Boat Harbour, a body of water adjacent the Mik'maw community of Pictou Landing.
Although the company has formally severed ties with its workforce, mill owners posted a statement on Facebook which said, "We remain committed to providing our former employees with offers of re-employment should the mill re-open."
"Terminating recall rights does not affect our commitment to re-opening a mill in Nova Scotia."
The company declined to say more or answer questions from CBC News.
Murray called the move "nothing but an opportunity to save money if Northern Pulp restarts operations."
That's because without recall rights, former employees will find themselves in the same situation as brand new employees if the mill restarts operations.
"All of their ability to be recalled is now terminated and their employment terminated, and the only way now that they can return back to the workplace is to be rehired under any new contract that Northern Pulp sees fit," said Murray.
According to Murray, the 50 employees who paid into a traditional defined benefit pension plan would then be forced to pay into a less predictable defined contribution plan.
What employees can do with what has accrued in the existing pension plan depends on a number of factors, including length of employment and age. The union wants to meet with its members to work through the options, offer support and make sure the former employees understand their rights.
Those already receiving a pension from their time at Northern Pulp will not be affected.
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