01/18/2012 03:48 EST | Updated 03/19/2012 05:12 EDT

White Birch agrees to negotiate with union concerning closed Quebec City mill

MONTREAL - White Birch Paper Co. has agreed to talk with its unionized employees to find a way to reopen its closed mill in Quebec City, according to a provincial government spokesman.

The U.S.-based company announced last week it was closing the mill for good.

Company president Christopher Brant said he had no other choice after 600 unionized workers rejected a final company offer that would have slashed wages and pension benefits.

But Harold Fortin, a spokesman for Quebec Economic Development Minister Sam Hamad, confirmed Wednesday the company will negotiate with the union for two weeks.

"It's a ray of hope," Fortin said in a telephone interview. "We're going from a complete closure to negotiations where we can still hope for everything."

Hamad and Brant spoke to each other earlier this week.

The mill's union said last week the company was demanding pay cuts of 20 per cent and reductions in pension benefits of between 45 and 65 per cent.

The upcoming discussions will also focus on White Birch's two other mills in Quebec — in Riviere-du-Loup and Gatineau.