PUGWASH – The economy of Pugwash has been dealt a serious blow with news the village’s largest employer is cutting as many as 35 jobs by the end of the year.
Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union Local 823 president Randy Bonneyman said staff were notified late Tuesday part of the operation would be axed.
“It’s not a good day for us, it’s terrible news for the community. We didn’t expect this,” Bonneyman said. “What they told us is the fine salt plant will be closing because of transportation costs, the loss of market share and production costs. They feel it’s not feasible to continue to run that part of the operation.”
Bonneyman, who has 34 years experience working at the mine, said the union leadership hopes to meet with company officials today in hopes of convincing them to change the decision.
Area county councillor Ron MacNutt is concerned with news, in light of the announced closure earlier this week of Bowater Mersey’s South Shore pulp mill and the continued closure of the pulp mill in Port Hawkesbury by Stora Enso.
“This company is the anchor of our economy,” MacNutt said. “We can’t afford to lose these jobs. I have a few neighours who are really hurting over this.”
Bonnyman said employees are fearful for their jobs and hope this isn’t a precursor to worse news later.
“We’re hoping we can convince them to keep the plant going,” Bonnyman said. “They’ve told us they’re going to continue to run the rock salt, but we don’t know for how long.”
The union represents 154 of the Pugwash operation’s 210 employees.
Denise Lauer, spokeswoman with U.S. parent company Morton Salt, said only the evaporative (fine salt) operation is to be impacted.
“We’re currently evaluating the future of the evaporative operation in Pugash and specifically what we’re looking at is moving the volume and product line from Pugwash throughout our network to improve efficiencies,” Lauer said from Chicago.
Lauer said the review is because of external pressures in Nova Scotia including transportation and energy costs as well as what’s becoming an increasingly competitive marketplace.
While the review is ongoing, she said current market conditions don’t bode well for the evaporation operation.
Fine salt is used in industrial processes such as water softeners as well as in table salt. Bonneyman said the company’s underground operations that produce road salt won’t be impacted.
The union local has been in contract talks with the company since last fall and negotiations are expected to reconvene next week with a conciliator from the Labour Department.
Bonnyman said the company told employees contract talks have nothing to do with the decision.
The existing contract expired last October. Major issues include the pension and contracting out. The company wants to freeze the employees’ defined-benefit pension plan and begin a defined-contribution plan.
The salt mine, one of two in Cumberland County, opened in 1954. The evaporator operation, where fine salt is produced, opened in 1962.