Elk Falls Workers

Campbell River B.C.

Town Hall Meeting fails to provide Answers…

Catalyst held 2 employee “Town Hall” meetings today at the Discovery Inn – both were well attended, but few attendees left with any real answers to the questions they wanted answered in order to help them make an informed decision about whether or not to apply for their  severance later this month.

Richard Garneau led both meetings. He went into great detail about the precarious financial situation the company currently finds itself in.

He then spoke about his view that “economically”, things were beginning to show signs of turning around, and that once that turnaroud gets going there would once again be economic fibre available on the coast. And once fibre becomes available,  he believes there could still be a future for Elk Falls as a 2 machine specialty mill. Provided of course, that we get to $80 ton, which he now considers to mean a $40 per hour all-in wage structure.

When he got to the subject of severance, Mr Garneau couldn’t have been more evasive about Company plans for paying employees out. He said people could apply on the 26th, and that the Company would review their financial position and make a decision about paying out by the 8th of March.  He kept implying that if too many people applied, it could mean forcing the Company into bankruptcy protection (CCAA). However, he wouldn’t give a straight answer as to what “too many” was.  Several people tried to get an answer to the question “if they applied for a severance, and then the Company applied for CCAA, would they still be an active employee without a severance or would they be considered severed from the Company and become an unsecured creditor waiting to see what they get, if anything for a severance?”. Throughout the 2 meetings this question was answered many opposing ways. Richard told people that once they had signed the application for severance, they were severed. On another occasion, Steve Boniferro said that people wouldn’t be considered severed until they actually received their severance money.  630 President Doug Ellis asked him if he would put that in writing, to which to Steve replied that he would.  But shortly after the meeting ended, Steve backed up and said he’d have to check with legal council before he could say for sure.

The biggest surprise of the meeting was that Mayor Charlie Cornfeld was on hand to explain that the City and Catalyst have come to an “Agreement in Principle” that would see the tax that Catalyst pays in Campbell River lowered to $1.5 million/yr. on a going forward basis.

Rather than try to explain everything that took place at the meeting in 1 post, as people leave comments, I will try to fill in more of the blanks about what took place or was said, and our interpretation of what it may have meant.

February 17, 2010 - Posted by | General, Meetings


  1. With all the BS that was flying around this meeting and I’m not afraid to say a waste of 2 hours of my life. The only thing I got that was new to me, was that our so called Mayor could of made a deal with the DEVIL. How does he expect to raise taxes and try to squeeze the money out of laided off workers or maybe soon to be unemployed. I think I will pay $10.00 and go to court also.

    Comment by Dennis | February 28, 2010 | Reply

  2. If we force Catalyst into CCAA protection, do the other three mills keep on running and earning their full wages while we sit on the sidelines waiting for our severance pay?
    That would really be like getting a punch in the gut and not being able to do anything about it!
    Yes, those mills could continue to run and earn wages. The members there could lose things owed to them that had been defered such as banked vacation, Lieu time, etc. – Ian

    Comment by Rich Bak | February 24, 2010 | Reply

  3. Ian or Dan. I am confused about the company reply #2 & #3(Richard Demchuck) In one statement he says you are not severed until you are paid your severence and in the next he says once you have submitted you application it is irrevocable. The second clarification I would ask for is for the people who are eligible for pension, how long after the March 9 “DECISION” should they have to wait to know if they are severed and can apply for pension benefits and yet still qualify for their well deserved severance.
    I wish all the best in the future no matter what the outcome .
    Steve: Your right, they are saying both things. We were assured today that the application for severance that the Company wants people to sign will have as part of it’s disclaimer – that people would still be considered employees until the severance money is deposited into their bank account. However they also say the request for severance is irrevocable.
    Based on the way the Company says they’re going to deal with severances, your second question becomes rather interesting as well. In order to start collecting your pulp & paper pension, you need to sign a form stating that you have left the industry. If you resign and apply for a severance, but the Company delays paying out the severance, then based on what the Company assured us today, you would still be considered an employee, and wouldn’t be eligible to start collecting your pension. So if you apply for the severance, you can’t start drawing your pension until the beginning of the month immediately following the month you receive the severance money.
    Katerina, the Mercers representative that was here a couple weeks ago said that although they don’t like to do it, people could make all the arrangements to start receiving their pension on the first of April, and if the severances get delayed they could notify mercers close to the end of March to cancel or postpone things.
    Hope that helps – Ian

    Comment by Grizzly | February 23, 2010 | Reply

  4. If the people asking to be severed once the severances become available this coming Friday aren’t enough to make Catalyst apply for CCAA protection, what would then be the possible tipping point?

    The first handful or so after that date? How is one to know what their magic number is? If you waited three months until June 1st, could you possibly be out of luck?

    Comment by Rich Bak | February 23, 2010 | Reply

  5. I spoke to Richard Demchuck this afternoon, and although there are still many unknowns, he did tell me what he could about what will happen this Friday.

    1st – He wanted everyone to be aware that the Company will not be granting anyone access to the mill site on Friday. i.e. to retrieve personal property….

    2nd – At this point, the Company is taking the position that people will not be considered severed until they have received their severance monies.

    3rd – At this point, The form people will be signing won’t just be to express an interest in severing, it will be an application saying you wish to sever, and it will be irrevocable once submitted.

    The Company will open the conference room starting at 8:00 am.

    There are still unknowns… I’ll try to update this post once I hear something more.
    And you’ll notice I used the words “At this point”… I don’t know if the Company will change their minds on any of these things, but nothing would surprise me any more.

    Comment by Ian | February 22, 2010 | Reply

    • Just a note to Ian,Dan and others… Your ongoing efforts are appreciated during these interesting times.

      Comment by Brian | February 23, 2010 | Reply

    • This isn’t a severance option it’s a poll.

      Comment by Gord Zmaeff | February 23, 2010 | Reply

  6. I see several scenarios:
    1. I apply for my severance and the company pays me. I am on my way!
    2. I apply for my severance and the company does not pay me. I am on my way!
    3. I do not apply for my severance and the company just keeps my money. I am on my way!
    4. I apply for my severance and the company is unable to pay me. The corporation is bankrupt and the company does not keep my money but I don’t get it either. I am on my way!
    5. The company calls us back to work on Feb 25th and I do not get my severance. I am on my way!
    I see a trend! I think I will be on my way, after I apply for a severence!

    Comment by Brian Gordon | February 22, 2010 | Reply

  7. Do we know if there is a time limit on applying? Hopefully we can wait until our E.I. runs out theerby postponing having to pay back the money we’ve received. The time limit is when you run out of recall (probably 3 yrs) or if they announce a startup, if you are recalled back to work your severance is no longer available.-Dan

    Comment by kevin | February 22, 2010 | Reply

    • So they cant just go belly up at Elk, but do you think they would sell off just Elk? If they could find a buyer.
      The Company always had the option of selling any of it’s facilities. Even in CCAA that would still be an option. However, with limited fibre, and only so big of market, it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to sell to a competitor – Ian

      Comment by Brian | February 22, 2010 | Reply

    • Can anyone on the executive give clear information on what or how the guys who are not in town can apply on Friday?
      Have tried calling the mill but get voicemail, I am sure Carla has told someone the process by now.

      Comment by Wife of out of town worker | February 22, 2010 | Reply

      • Burkell, Carla (Elk Falls) to me

        I’ve been instructed that no paperwork can be provided until the employee’s date of severance eligibility.

        Carla Burkell
        Human Resources Administrator
        Catalyst Paper, Elk Falls Division
        Phone (250)287-5221
        Fax (250)287-5642
        e-mail: carla.burkell@catalystpaper.com

        I hope that that is what you wanted. I find that after 37 years at Elk Falls this did not startle me. I would suggest that people call others that are still employed there.

        Comment by Brian Gordon | February 22, 2010

      • I am out of town and spoke with Carla the other day. She told me to send her an email dated the 26th Feb 2010 and she would forward the forms via email the forms to be filled out. Not sure if I should post Carla’s email address here but…. Hope this helps.

        Comment by Brian | February 23, 2010

      • If you were offered a severance when the Kraft mill went down you are entitle to fill out the severance papers now. Carla has the names and numbers!
        Some people still have them, but many lost them when they chose to remain on recall and so the severances went to others who took them. – Ian

        Comment by Todd | February 24, 2010

  8. Hey Ian and Dan can Richard go belly up at just one site? (Elk)
    No it would be the whole company including all the mills.-Dan

    Comment by Larry Lagos | February 22, 2010 | Reply

  9. Timing is everything. $30 million to pay out severances and risk bankruptcy or $10 million to modernize and be viable. But, hey let’s wait until a week or so shy of the date that people can ask for their severance. A year goes by where the other three sites sail on through virtually unscathed. Our so called brothers in Crofton who basically took the position !@#$ Elk Falls , we’re OK here. So should we buy into the idea that we could be responsible for the demise of Catalyst Paper and somehow carry the guilt of putting all of the other mills down.
    It was discussed by many of us that collectively the four mills could have shared the pain and each took down time and perhaps maybe only be down 6 months every few years. There was no appetite for that. What will happen, will happen, many if not all are fed up and want to move on. Can you blame them? I can’t. Some of us have been through this before and it seems to be the new world order. I can hardly wait for the next installment of as “As the Catalyst Turns”.

    Comment by 1123 member | February 21, 2010 | Reply

    • As for starting the mill up again, never mind if there is enough of us. Would there be enough staff to run things? Im sure many of them feel burned and have moved on to better things. And what about all the equipment that apparently been taken out of Elk. Ive heard reports of mobile equipment showing up at Port Alberni. Do we know what’s left inside? And the landfill Leachate line that is being transfered from our SET to the Cities SET. These signs do paint a picture for me. Ill be apprenticing in another industry soon.

      Comment by Brian | February 21, 2010 | Reply

    • I agree %100. As someone whos moved on , I feel a little disappointed not only those so called brothers and sisters in the other sites,but to the national as well. I wonder why the strike support money hasn’t been returned to the people who need it the most, The people of Elk, who carried this company and the union for so many years. yet Theres members money sitting waiting for 1 or 2 locals to settle there contracts that expired almost 2 years ago.If members at the other divisions are concerned about what may happen if these severance are paid out, then time to show it. Moral support doesn’t do squat. Good luck to everyone. Its time to stop worrying about others, look after yourselves and your family’s

      Comment by Lorne | February 23, 2010 | Reply

  10. Maybe we should all show up with our own written expression of interest in our severance.
    Why should we leave the wordsmithing on such an important document up to Dick and his bunch of bandits?
    Or better yet, have the Union inform the company that X number of employees are interested in their severance. Last time I looked it was the Union’s responsibility to administer the contract.
    If the company is truly looking for an expression of interest in severance they should not have a problem with this.
    If they do, then we will know that they are or will be playing games. The Company does not need individual names until they start writing cheques.

    Comment by Angus63 | February 20, 2010 | Reply

    • I like this Idea. Keeping our hand close to our chest so to speak. A lot to ask of our elected reps? Perhaps? Do-able? Only they could answer that. But I like the idea.

      Comment by Brian | February 21, 2010 | Reply

  11. Maybe Ian or Dan can answer this question for me? If a person elects not to apply for severance but the majority do and then the company comes out and says the mill is done due to lack of remaining employees. Would this mean that the remaining employees severance would go up as per the contract for a total mill closure? Assuming that severance is ever paid of course.If the Company declared the mill permanently closed, then those left would be eligible for a larger severance. (2 weeks per year of service to a max of 60 weeks) – But if “too many” taking the severance next week will push them into CCAA, I would expect the permanent mill closure scenario would do the same – Ian

    Comment by U Hopf | February 20, 2010 | Reply

    • Interesting Ian. The two weeks per year of service might bring some peoples severance up to where it should have been as I guess some “may” be paid out at base rate rather than their job rate. The big question is how many is too many?
      Another question is on April 28th will Dicks retirement package put Catalyst into CCAA?
      He stated very clearly that it was his decision to leave, which means he doesn’t get a severance – Ian

      Comment by Brian | February 20, 2010 | Reply

  12. I think that Catalyst will be obligated to pay out their contractual agreement. They are a hateful bunch of fear mongering, greedy, cut-throat,P#&*Ks. The only question I forgot to ask Richard was, “Do you have a pager?”
    We need to hold our heads up and move forward. Apply and have a plan to move on.
    I never got a chance to retire and have a donut and a hand shake with many of you Brothers and Sisters, but I can honestly say I’ve never worked and called home with a finer bunch of work-mates who collectively held the bar up to a place that we can all be proud to be a part of. Three cheers for Elk Falls. And to Richard and his Clowns,”I don’t care if you stick-it” !

    Comment by R.Russell | February 19, 2010 | Reply

  13. I have posted a comment by Hartley as it seems to fit into a larger picture for me. You can see that here. I know it’s little to late, but when the shoe in on someone’s else’s foot, we can learn by your example.

    In solidarity,

    Comment by Stephen | February 19, 2010 | Reply

  14. I was not able to attend the meetings because of a need to attend to a prefectly good post-Elk Falls job, but I intend to make the observations of a blind man.
    I had a look at the posts and see a general trend to look at the “stick” of not getting a severance is a common fear, I think that the real problem with the CCAA threat is that it would put an end to Bridging for both current and future retirees.
    I truly hope that some day the mill opens again but the company will make that decision on matters far greater than the severance packages which amount to less than twenty million dollars. Compare that to the first day cost of starting up the mill which would likely be more than a few million.
    If you want your severence, apply! What the company does with its money is not your affair, if they don’t pay their bills it is.
    Some people also seem to worry that if they apply for severence they may loose both a possible job and the severence. Many people who worked at Elk Falls over the years have been told for so long that they did nothing for their money that they have begun to believe it. FACT: There is no group of people on the planet more qualified to run that mill than the people who worked in it last year. Take your severence, start your pension, if the company wants to run the mill they will need you or someone that looks just like you!
    I wish you all a long healthy retirement and for those looking for work, I hope that you live to enjoy a relationship with an employer that will look more like symbiosis and less like wife beating.

    Comment by Brian Gordon | February 19, 2010 | Reply

    • Very Well said!!! Brian

      Comment by larry lagos | February 19, 2010 | Reply

  15. Well spoken Compy! In that spirit, if anybody needs a ride on Friday the 26th, my van can carry seven additional passengers.

    Comment by jim winnig | February 18, 2010 | Reply

  16. Well “Dick” lay’s me off for a month that turns into a year, He takes away medical,dental pays my holidays at a lesser rate, And once again threats, fear mongering. And oh ya guess what you may or may not see a severance? Wow! Please just make the Bad Man go away!!! Good Luck everyone!

    Comment by larry lagos | February 18, 2010 | Reply

  17. sorry I missed the meetings,.. had to attend a much more important one at north island college, regarding getting the ‘community development trust’ money for re-schooling, ‘training’, if you will, to get another decent job. The CDT money is available to anyone laid off in the forest industry from May 1, 2007 and later.
    If mighty GORDO is willing to eke out some loot for training, I’m in! As forest-dependent mill workers, we all qualify. Train for what? Well, there are lots of possibilities for each individual. I only found this out yesterday (wed) and there are lots of questions yet.
    Of course it isn’t money, its they pay for courses.
    Can’t wait to fill out that severance paper.

    Comment by kenbkiller | February 18, 2010 | Reply

    • That right Ken. they pay your tuition, course fees and books up to 5000 dollars and well worth it. The EI for long tenured workers helps too. They will even pay you EI for a number of weeks after your schooling while you search for a job in your newly chosen field.

      A for what Im missing out on while Im away at school, it does pose some tough questions regarding loosing ei funding before im out of school and working in the industry Ive chosen. Im going to need more info before making my decision.
      Best of luck to everyone in these troubled times ahead. Is been a slice.

      Comment by Brian | February 18, 2010 | Reply

  18. What I got out of the meeting was that if we apply for severance and there is no money to pay us out, our signature on the application still stands as voluntarily leaving. This means we cut ourselves off E.I. because we can’t “quit” and collect. Garneau told us we have a decision to make. It’s a decision to be screwed or doubly screwed

    Comment by kevin | February 18, 2010 | Reply

  19. after 34 years as a employee of elk falls yesterdays meeting took it all.not only could the loonie toon actors give anyone a straight answer they contradicted themselves more often than not. As pepe said if too many people apply we could force them into credit protection, so i say everyone should apply!! it all comes down to whether or not they want to keep control of the company, if not the COURTS will appoint a monitor to watch them. If you remember the Fletcher years they tried to funnel the money down to n.z. by Fletcher Canada buying them. this is why they also bought snowflake their bank down south. apply,apply,apply, see you on the 26th.cheers compy

    Comment by compy | February 18, 2010 | Reply

  20. After the afternoon meeting I tracked down Richard Demchuk and asked if we would be able to find out how much our severance was worth without signing anything so we could take this info home discuss it with our family and make an informed decision. His reply was that we would NOT be able to do that and what we should do is take a worse case scenario and figure our severance out at base rate and go from there. It seems funny to me that i can’t access this info before hand. The other question I have is at what rate are they going to calculate our severances? Is it going to be at the rate of the job that we were laid off at or the rate at which we were at traditionally? When I was laid off I was a first aid attendant but the seniority list still has me as spareboard. As for the meeting I can not believe that a CEO of a large corporation cannot tell you how much liquidity is available. I also would have liked to see facts and figures relating to the Elk Falls operation. I found Richards answers to questions to be very vague. When I asked about our 80/tonne agreement All he could say was that the situation has changed. I’m sorry that answer showed me he isn’t ready to negotiate anything. Same old rhetoric It’s my way or nothing at all. And finally as for Mayor Charley all I’ve got to say is wow we spend the money to win in court just so council can turn around and give them what they asked for. I hope there is going to be public debate on this issue. I also hope you will do what was suggested if you do give them what they want at least tie the tax rate to the JOBS it will create
    Gord: the rates the severance will be paid out at is the “card rate” you had in the mill on the date you were laid off. We’ve already had discussions with several people that were doing the same job that they had done for years when they were laid off, but are getting a severance at a lower rate because they had been displaced from their department, yet still working in it temporarily. – Ian

    Comment by Gord Hartley | February 18, 2010 | Reply

  21. Maybe King Richard is only protecting his own interest of a leaving bonus when he descends the throne after the AGM?

    Comment by Robert | February 18, 2010 | Reply

    • I don’t know about a leaving bonus, but he did say he was leaving without any money as he was resigning not being fired.He also stated that he declined his stock bonus last year, believe or not as suits you.

      Comment by Dan | February 18, 2010 | Reply

  22. A point that Garneau seemed to me to be making repeatedly was that even if we got our severance, if the company went bankrupt in the subsequent 90 days we might have to give back our severance. At least that was the impression I got. Is this a realistic possibility or just a scare tactic? What is the union’s legal opinion of this assertion?
    The way I understood, he was saying they wouldn’t allow themselves to get into that position – which could mean they would just refuse to pay out the severances because it may tip them into CCAA, and it would be up to us to convince an arbitrator that he should order them to do just that… And as for it being possible that creditors would sue employees who received a severance in the 90-day period prior to going into CCAA, They would have to be able to prove that Catalyst knew they were going to go into CCAA before they paid the severances… So most likely a scare tactic.

    I doubt Catalyst has the legal right to delay paying out severances until after the 8th of March. The severances are due to be paid after a year has passed. Catalyst has the same obligation to pay their bills that we all have. If I claimed the same privileges that Catalyst does I could tell the bank I want to wait an extra ten days to pay my mortgage until I decide if I like the house I bought.
    Yes Catalyst has the obligation to pay their bills… Just like they had a legal obligation to live by the agreement they had with Co-Gen for steam utilization, and Just like they had the obligation to pay the full accessed value of their taxes. Just because they have no legal right means nothing to this Company.

    However, it is clear that might makes right. I would like to ask Mr. Cornfield if every tax payer, even someone owning a condo, will get a tax break now if having to pay their property taxes will lead to bankruptcy. I think we know the answer to that. Obviously the rules get changed if you have more to threaten with, and Catalyst has shown it is willing to use the threat of the economic harm it can inflict to get it’s way. That was the message to the membership at the meetings today. The mayor was told if you want any tax money at all, give us what we demand. We were told if you want any jobs, give us what we want, and, if you claim your rights to severance, we might have the clout to get the rules twisted to suit us so there will be no severances.

    The post by Ian, regarding their backtracking on Bonifero’s statement, backed by Garneau at the meeting, that we aren’t severed until we get the money indicates that we can’t depend on anything they say. It is difficult for me to see their reasoning behind the delay in paying severances. Are they saying that they will pay severances on the 8th but they will then decide if they will restart the mill based on the percentage of people asking for severances? They said they would make a decision about what they were doing with the severances by the 8th. And that they would then know if they ever could restart the mill, based on the number of people remaining.
    Are they saying they will look at the numbers and, if paying severances leads to bankruptcy, decline to pay? I don’t think that is how the law works. You need to have actually used up your money to claim bankruptcy. Your right – they wouldn’t be bankrupt, but you don’t have to be bankrupt to make an application to enter into CCAA. All they have to do is be able to show they won’t have sufficient funds to run the Company. – Ian

    The question I asked and was answered by Garneau implied that they would pay severances even if it used up all the money they had, so there seems no reason not to pay severances right away, since they will do so anyway. Similarily, if they intend to pay severances anyway, why do they have to wait until they find out how many people are going to ask for severance before they decide whether or not they will restart the mill.

    The intention of the meeting, and I think this was obvious, I am not claiming to be perceptive, was to offer us the carrot of a job if we reconsidered asking for our severance. The stick was that by asking for our severance we could loose both the severance and any possibility of a job. What I heard was that even if you get the money, it could be taken back, and it will be your fault for asking for it in the first place.

    A lot will happen in the next month.

    Comment by Piet | February 18, 2010 | Reply

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