From acrimony to respect

NorskeCanada’s Powell River plant sheds ‘worst’ labour relations rep
By Darcy Shenfield and Allen Ponak
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 02/21/2007

In the 1990s, the British Columbia pulp and paper industry had a well-earned reputation for some of the most bitter labour-management relations in Canada. Following a bitter strike in 1997, Fletcher Challenge’s labour relations on the West Coast were among the worst in the forest industry.

But when Norwegian paper giant Norske Skog bought Fletcher Challenge in 2000, which in turn bought Pacifica Papers, the merged entity known as NorskeCanada — which has since been renamed Catalyst Paper — encouraged a strong, values-driven management and co-operative relationships with workers and unions.

So the new senior management team at NorskeCanada knew they needed fresh leadership at their Powell River plant. Between 1980 and 2000, Powell River’s fortunes had declined dramatically. The plant went from 10 paper-making machines to three and from 2,100 employees to 1,000. Layoffs, combined with an autocratic, command-and-control style of mill management gave Powell River, then owned by Pacifica Papers, a reputation among unionized workers as the worst mill in the worst company in the worst industry in British Columbia.