Harmac workers face ‘ownership liabilities’
NANAIMO — In the face of doomsday predictions, Harmac workers still believe they can come up with a viable plan to reopen the closed pulp mill.
Arnie Bercov, vice-president of the Pulp, Paper and Woodworkers of Canada Local 8, representing Harmac’s 530 laid-off workers, said Monday the workers are continuing to put together their business plan and are confident they can present a workable model for Harmac to reopen, despite the opinions of some industry analysts.
Kevin Mason, an industry analyst with Equity Research Associates, said while the concept of workers investing in their own company would be considered a “good thing in most cases,” it likely won’t work at Harmac due mostly to legal liabilities related to the purchase.
Gerry Van Leeuwen, an analyst with Vancouver’s International Wood Markets, agreed that legal liabilities could be a problem for the workers’ ownership of the mill and said that the realities of the global marketplace would also work against Harmac’s future success.
Bercov said the workers are aware there are challenges, but believe they can be overcome.
“I think these analysts should come here and take a closer look at Harmac, our product and consider the long-term outlook for B.C. pulp and maybe they’d change their minds,” he said.
Mason commended the workers for their initiative, but said it would be a “decidedly miserable idea” for the workers to pursue an investment in Harmac. He said the liabilities and risks in the case of Harmac are “far too great.”
“The potential liabilities around a number of legacy issues, including such things as pensions, in the workers’ collective agreement would be considerable,” he said.
“As well, with the mill likely to close within the next couple of years regardless of what happens now, the workers would expose themselves to monstrous risks regarding the environmental cleanup that will have to take place there.
“If the workers were owners, they would be directly responsible for the cleanup costs so they would be putting themselves in harm’s way if they move forward to purchase the mill,” Mason said.
Given the limited time frame the workers have to deal with, he can see no way for the workers to limit their liability to the extent that they could attract other investors in the mill or keep themselves from major liabilities if they move forward on their own.
“In as much as the workers desire to keep their jobs, and rightly so in such troubling times in the forest industry, the proposal for the workers to invest in Harmac is woefully misguided and something I clearly don’t recommend,” he said.
Bercov dismisses such dire predictions and said the workers are doing “all the due diligence that’s necessary” to ensure any moves toward taking ownership of the mill would not have negative repercussions for them.
He said the workers are “in the process” of having all the legal questions regarding their possible purchase of the mill answered before submitting their business plan to PricewaterhouseCoopers, the mill’s receivers.