Like many union formations however, the path was not easy. Work conditions were much different then they were today, and labour laws had yet to find their strength.
In 1935, the work schedule at the Mersey Paper Company Limited involved nine hour days, seven days a week. On Sundays, the company paid overtime, but the only holiday they were given was Christmas. Even that was unpaid. At the time, there were no pensions, no sick pay, no vacations, no written rules or wage rates and no formal way to present complaints to management.
Outside of the workers though, support for a union was in short supply. The company officials threatened to fire anyone suspected of supporting the unions, and the Mayor of Liverpool had the power to order union organizers out of town. The papermakers had a union for several years, but the company refused to acknowledge them.
However the turning point came after two pay cuts in the early thirties. Some workers dropped to as low as 27 cents per hour, and they had enough.
In the autumn of 1935, mechanical workers, maintenance workers, woodroom workers, stevedores and electricians gathered at the town hall to debate their next move. In the end, they voted to unionize. With the charter signed, the Local 141 became part of the Pulp, Sulphite and Papermill Workers Union.
The company was reluctant to acknowledge the unions at first, but steady pressure and the threat of a strike forced the company to back down. Out of this, the Local 141 and Papermakers Local 259 were officially recognized as bargaining agents.
The unions have gone through many changes since that initial formation. They created the Mersey Protective Association, an employee run health and disability program. In 1974 they joined the Canadian Paperworkers Union. In 1992, they merged with other organizations to become the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers (CEP) Union of Canada
The union is gathering this Saturday Dec. 11 at the Liverpool Fire Hall to celebrate their 75th year. All CEP Local members, retiree’s and LTD recipients are welcome to attend. Anyone who did not get an invitation can contact the Local 141 at 350-0468 or Brian Godfrey at 354-2383.