Union: Brookfield needs to commit to Millinocket mill

Posted Aug. 27, 2008, at 5:40 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 7:25 a.m.

MILLINOCKET, Maine — Multibillion dollar conglomerate Brookfield Asset Manage-ment lied about its plans for the Katahdin Avenue paper mill it will indefinitely close Tuesday and needs to clearly state its commitment to the mill’s fu-ture, a union president said Wednesday.

United Steel Workers Local 152 boss Louis Ouellette minced no words when asked how he felt Brookfield, a Toronto-based asset management firm, had treated management and work-ers with its abrupt decision Tuesday to indefinitely shut down the Katahdin Paper Co. LLC mill.

“I am just so tired of being lied to,” Ouellette said Wednesday. “For the last week, they have been telling us they are going to run all winter on one boiler and that things were just so positive and then they slam us yesterday.”

He described several meetings held since June in which managers from Katahdin Paper Co. LLC, a Brookfield subsidi-ary, stressed that the mill was meeting all sales, production and energy-saving goals and that talks were going well between Katahdin and alternative energy providers seeking to install biomass boilers at the mill.

This was a sharp change from May 29, when Katahdin announced that the runaway cost of oil, the mill’s primary energy source, would force an indefinite shutdown on July 28, laying off about 208 workers, unless an alternative energy source was found.

“Everyone was pulling to-gether to make it work and it started to seem to work,” said Ouellette, whose union repre-sents about 75 papermakers at the Katahdin company mill in East Millinocket.

Then came Tuesday’s announcement.

Gov. John Baldacci, whose intervention on May 30 helped keep the mill going through the summer, stressed Tuesday that Brookfield Chief Executive Of-ficer Peter Gordon had commit-ted to reopen the mill in 2009 if talks went well.

But Brookfield hasn’t said anything publicly, Ouellette said. Nor has any timeline for the mill’s restart been laid out.

“What is missing from the picture is Brookfield manage-ment,” Ouellette said. “They have to make a commitment to employ people and make paper. They have to make that com-mitment.”

Brookfield company spokes-men did not immediately re-turn telephone messages and emails requesting comment on Wednesday.

Brookfield netted $110 mil-lion in the second quarter of 2008, down from the $153 million net income recorded “on the same basis last year,” according to its Web site, brookfield.com.

The company manages about $95 billion of assets in North and South America and Europe.

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