The union representing about 450 employees at Dryden’s Domtar Mill says they’ve approved contracts with some of the largest wage increases in the forestry sector in over 35 years.

Unifor employees’ contracts expired with Domtar on August 31, 2022. Then in November, the union warned of potential strike action for early 2023 if a deal couldn’t be reached – after negotiations stalled with Domtar leadership.

But Unifor was able to reach three tentative contract agreements to cover all 450 employees in December, which were approved by members late in the month - nearly unanimously.

The union says the 4-year deals include wage increases of between 22 and 24 per cent over their term, with major increases for vision, dental, life insurance and more, extra overtime pay, an extra week of vacation after 2 years of service, a better boot allowance and more.  

“All 3 deals achieve Unifor’s Eastern Canada Pulp and Paper Pattern and the total monetary packages contain some of the largest monetary improvements in the forest sector in over 35 years,” said Stephen Boon, Unifor’s National Representative.

“These agreements provide long-term stability for Domtar or any potential buyer of the mill, but most importantly, these deals address the soaring cost of inflation impacting Unifor members and their families in Dryden and Ear Falls,” he adds.

As Boon notes, Domtar employees are keeping an eye on their futures at the mill after ownership changed hands twice over the last two years and a major deal is expected to go through this year.

In early 2021, Domtar was purchased by the Paper Excellence Group out of British Columbia in a $3 billion US deal. This came as Domtar reported a net loss of $29 million through the first quarter of the year after a $59 million loss in the last quarter of 2020.

Then in July 2022, Paper Excellence announced a $2.7 billion deal to purchase Resolute Forest Products.

But due to regulatory requirements associated with the deal, as the two companies are the largest pulp and paper manufacturers in Canada, the company plans to sell their mills in Dryden and Thunder Bay to two separate third-buyer parties.

Domtar leadership expects the deal to go through in early 2023 after approvals. As it stands, those third-party buyers haven’t been found yet.