Employees rescued their companies
Where are they now: Harmac and CHEK-TV

Robert Barron, Daily News
Published: Friday, September 03, 2010

Two companies in Nanaimo will be marking significant anniversaries in the coming weeks.

Victoria-based CHEK-TV, B.C.'s oldest private station, which has a satellite office in Nanaimo, is celebrating its first anniversary of the successful employee-led bid to buy the company from Canwest Global Communications in September 2009 after Canwest announced its intention to shut the station down.

As well, Nanaimo's Harmac pulp mill will be commemorating the second anniversary of its workers' successful bid to buy the mill, along with three private investors, in the fall of 2008 after the mill's previous owner, Pope & Talbot, went bankrupt.

Levi Sampson, president of Nanaimo Forest Products, which now owns Harmac and is an investor and member of the new board of CHEK, said the ongoing success of both companies as worker-led institutions is being studied closely by other organizations across Canada and around the world.

"Both the employee-led models have been under a microscope by other companies since they reopened and their success is being recognized," Sampson said.

"I'm constantly getting calls from companies that are not in great shape in B.C. and elsewhere that want me to come and talk to them about the benefits of the worker-led model in efforts to turn these companies around, and I have three talking engagements confirmed in October so far."

Harmac shut down in the spring of 2008 but, unwilling to walk away from a mill that had been profitable in the past, the mill's employees banded together to take over themselves and began searching for private investors.

After a lengthy court process, Nanaimo Forest Products, a four-way partnership that includes Harmac workers, who each invested $25,000, and three private partners, bought the mill that summer for $13.2 million.

It reopened with one production line in October 2008 and hired back 220 workers. They opened a second line last year, bringing an additional 45 employees back to work.

Last year, most of the CHEK's 45 employees agreed to invest $15,000 each to pool funds for a 25% share in a new company to operate the station. Like Harmac, the balance of the new television station is held by outside investors.

Sampson said the worker-led model allows for the kind of flexibility that's needed to guide companies like Harmac and CHEK through difficult economic times.

There will be an anniversary celebration at CHEK's Victoria studio on Monday between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Sampson said an anniversary party for the families of Harmac's workers will also be held this fall, with the details to be announced at a later date.