By Carole Rooney
The recent announcement that Louisiana-Pacific Corporation (LP) is purchasing Ainsworth Lumber Co. Ltd. has its unionized workers in 100 Mile House wondering what changes might be in store for them. Pulp, Paper and Woodworkers of Canada Local No. 9 (PPWC9) president Chuck LeBlanc says its members at the Ainsworth OSB plant in 100 Mile House are in a “wait-and-see” mode as to what the new structure will look like.
“At this point, we are not expecting major changes to Ainsworth’s operation in 100 Mile. They’ve got a 10-year forestry agreement that supplies them timber, with a plant that can produce certain grades of OSB for the overseas markets that customers like.”
For the workers, he explains, the United States-based forestry giant LP is the unknown element at this point.
Their biggest concern – and one LeBlanc adds he shares as someone who lives and works in British Columbia – is having yet another foreign corporation taking ownership of a large company in the province.
“You look at Ainsworth, as a family-owned business six or seven years ago to a multinational corporation, and you lose that contact with the ‘big boss’, really. But, it’s not just happening here; it’s happening everywhere right now.
“I think that’s the biggest concern – the head office at Louisiana-Pacific. At the end of the day, do they really care that much about 100 Mile House, and that plant, and their 135 workers?”
However, if these employees are still doing their best work, and quality product continues to flow out of the plant, LeBlanc says there is “no reason to worry” that the new owners will make drastic changes.
“It is the global economy that makes a lot of those decisions for us now, and we’ve seen that in 2008/09.”
That’s when the Ainsworth family fell into a financial position that forced it to recapitalize, and the financial groups that had supplied capital over the previous decade took a majority ownership position.
However, LeBlanc notes that prior to this deal, New York-based firm Brookfield Asset Management already held a majority share (54 per cent) of Ainsworth’s stocks from other recent transactions.
“Now, we’re part of an even larger group, and that has got some pluses, too.
“A large forest company like Louisiana-Pacific isn’t going to go down … big isn’t necessarily bad, until you start dealing with it on a personal level. But, they do have the resources to keep the place running as long as the conditions in 100 Mile are right.”
Now, time will tell what the transfer of ownership will mean to local PPWC9 members, he says.
“Who the big boss is doesn’t really make a difference [to workers]. It’s the guys you are dealing with on the floor, your middle managers who are there every day, that is the apprehension – are we going to see changes.
“And, we hope not. We think we’ve got a good group of managers there who are willing to work with the local and its membership.”