Workers need to pay up for mill

Robert Barron, The Daily News
Published: Thursday, August 28, 2008

Workers looking to become owners of Nanaimo's Harmac pulp mill must each immediately come up with $10,000 of a projected $25,000 investment before beginning their jobs.

The workers are part of the Nanaimo Forest Products group that has until this Friday to meet the terms of the agreement with the courts and Harmac's receiver, PricewaterhouseCoopers, to take over the mill. Arnold Bercov is a vice-president of the Pulp, Paper and Woodworkers of Canada, Local 8, which will continue to represent the mill's workers when Harmac re-opens, despite their part-owner status. About 160 workers will be called back to work in the beginning of operations that will see one of the three lines at the mill producing northern bleached softwood kraft pulp, and approximately 220 workers will be required when the mill expands to two lines at a time yet to be determined.

There were approximately 530 workers at Harmac when the mill shut down in May after its owner, Oregon-based Pope & Talbot, declared bankruptcy. Bercov said the workers will each be expected to pay $10,000 up front and the rest in of the $25,000 investment will be made in $5,000 installments that will be paid over time, The total contribution from the workers toward NFP's successful bid for the mill is expected to be about $7 million.

"We aren't asking for money from the workers until they are offered a job," Bercov said. "However, it should not be seen as the workers buying themselves a job with their investment. They are buying a share in the company and an opportunity to participate in this venture and have an interest in its success."

Bercov said he doesn't expect all of Harmac's former workers will get a job at the mill in the new, leaner operation, at least in the beginning phases. Many have moved on to other jobs, particularly in Alberta's oil patch. He said all rehired workers must also comply with the decision of NFP to eliminate the potential liability for outstanding vacation pay owed to Harmac employees, estimated to be about $6 million.