The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, August 28, 2009

Keys to northern work prospects: paper, power and pulp…Paper maker wants the economy to turn the page

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

SAULT STE. MARIE – Low advertising revenues are forcing newspapers across the nation to go out of business, and magazines and other publications are similarly hard hit by high costs of printing and mailing their product.

It’s not an easy era for print publications, which means it isn’t an easy era for NewPage Paper near Escanaba, which means it isn’t a good era for building trades workers who regularly maintain and upgrade their facilities. The NewPage Paper plant is the largest coated paper mill in North America, a maker of high quality paper used in magazine and magazine inserts.

NewPage Paper Director of Engineering Mike Fornetti was invited to speak to delegates at the 49th convention of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council in Aug. 4. He lauded the paper manufacturer’s ongoing relationship with its partners among the building trades unions, who have worked thousands of man-hours over the years at the NewPage plant, which also produces its own power.

“You guys bring a lot to the table in a tough environment,” Fornetti said. “We call contractors and trades in the middle of the night, 24-7 when we have a problem. You’re always very helpful, your work is high quality and you work safe.” He offered particular praise for the trades’ excellent weld record. Fornetti said the trades have a better performance record than the plant’s own in-house maintenance workers.

Fornetti said the plant formed an agreement to use union labor 15 years ago to do its renovation, maintenance and expansion work, and has never looked back on its decision. But the meltdown in the publishing industry is probably not over yet, and  offshore competition in the paper manufacturing business is extremely keen – “we are competing with some very low-cost, low-wage competitors,” Fornetti said, in particular China, which he said pays its workers in the range of $2 a day.

Despite the down times, Fornetti offered some unspecified good news for the building trades and the plant which is a huge local employer, putting 1,500 people to work.

“There are some big jobs coming up, which I can’t talk about,” Fornetti said. “But it will be excellent for the building trades.  (And) it will be a union project going forward.”