North Cowichan concessions chronicle Catalyst path to survival
The district of North Cowichan is likely holding its collective breathe as creditors and noteholders gather in Vancouver to vote on a crucial debt restructuring plan for Crofton Pulp and Paper Mill owner, Catalyst Paper.
Several groups in the district have made tough decisions this year to help Catalyst satisfy requirements under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA), a situation it’s been in since January.
Unions at all its B.C. mills accepted new collective agreements with some significant concessions, including an across-the-board 10 per cent cut in salary.
The president of Crofton's PPWC local 2, Paul Zarry, said the situation has been stressful on everyone, especially considering the long history of collective bargaining at the mill.
“You know, I’ve worked here for over 35 years. You know, you fought for all those things like improvements and benefits,” he said. “I think it’s easier to exist if you have a job, primarily and it’s very difficult to get those things back if you have no job at all.”
Many in the community have watched the industry evolve over the years and the number of people working at the Crofton mill dwindled down to half of what it was.
A former member of North Cowichan council, as well as a former director on the Cowichan Valley Regional District and a local lawyer, Glen Ridgeway, pointed out that the mill is still a big contributor to the tax base and local economy.
“These are not entry-level wages that these folks are earning, you got some tradesmen, but you have production workers and management who earn good amounts of money,” he pointed out. “The employment in that place is still a big part of the economics of this whole area.”
The district of North Cowichan also passed a controversial tax shift this year from heavy industry to residential to protect its revenues, in case Catalyst goes bankrupt. The shift sees homeowners paying $275 more each year in property taxes.
Catalyst’s board of directors is recommending its creditors vote in favour of the amended debt restructuring plan under the CCAA. Creditors and noteholders are scheduled to vote May 23 in Vancouver.
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