Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Hey California Redwood Workers! Do an ESOP!

A few years ago a I implored my fellow workers to take destiny in their own hands and do an Employee Stock Option Plan buyout of the Pulp Mill. Now I am asking the old Simpson Korbel Mill (California Redwood) Workers to consider since they were told today the mill was up for sale for 2 million. Here is a My Word from 2004. Kind of prophetic and relates to this situation.

MY WORD-Richard MarksEmployee Ownership can save Pulp Mill

As a long time forest product worker at Stockton Pacific Enterprises pulp mill in Samoa, I am deeply concerned that my community is missing a once in a lifetime opportunity today in the management shakeup and potential sale of the mill.

Many people do not know that the Stockton Pacific Enterprises Pulp Mill is the only certified totally chlorine free (TCF) pulp mill operating in North America and the only operating pulp mill in California. Our raw material is wood chips, our product is virgin pulp and our market is worldwide.

Over 150 good jobs with benefits that add wealth to the community are directly dependent on the mill, and many more local Humboldt businesses and jobs are indirectly affected by the viability of the mill.

The Stockton Pacific Enterprises Pulp Mill is undergoing another turnover of owners and management. Already workers have given up 15 percent of our monthly wages (around $100,000 per month) in the hope that the mill will not be closed.

Several years ago we reduced our workforce by over 50 employees to cut costs to preserve the company. We have given and will give more to make this mill viable.

We owe the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District (HBMWD) $600,000 in back payments for water, and if we close down we will never pay; the mill represents 45% of the monthly revenue of the HBMWD which would be borne by increased rates to residents if we close. PPM Finance (an American bank in Chicago owned by a British company) has a 17.5% interest loan which management cannot pay and the threat of foreclosure is very real.

We workers want to buy out our mill and operate it successfully. We can do this successfully through a mechanism called an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). We need time to develop a feasibility study and we need community support. We need our local legislators to sponsor legislation giving chlorine free pulp and paper products preferential status in state purchasing to assure a steady local market for our pulp. We need the Headwaters Funds and our economic development leaders to get behind and ESOP feasibility study and local ownership of the mill.

Think what a better situation we could have today in Humboldt County if our community had successfully supported an ESOP buyout of Pacific Lumber when Hurwitz and Maxxam rode into town in the 1980’s. We don’t want another round of foreign management: with a locally managed ESOP, it can be different this time.

An ESOP could provide for at least a 35% ownership, with two employee members on the board of directors; there would be profit sharing; democratic decision making; wages and benefits would be competitive with the industry; worker input on production; sound environmental stewardship and attention to worker safety; job retention; lobbying for greater production and sales of chlorine-free paper products.

We could work toward the conversion or development of the plant to include the manufacture of chlorine free finished paper products to create even more living wage jobs for the community.

To make all this happen, we need a working partnership with the HBMWD, an agreement which helps keep the district solvent without putting extra costs on local customers.

We need better communications between workers here at the plant and our community. We have a long term work investment here. The average worker has been at the plant over 20 years. We want to make this plant sustainable in good times and bad. I believe that an ESOP plan is the best way for direct worker involvement and investment in the future economic viability of this industry. We have a number of excellent models to work from, including the recent ESOP implemented by the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers (AWPPW) Blue Heron Paper in Oregon, and the very successful union ESOP at Blue Ridge Paper in North Carolina. We have the resources, the people and the desire to succeed.

But the Stockton Pacific Enterprises Pulp Mill workers and local 49 cannot do this alone. We are asking the community for involvement and input. What kind of economic future do we have here in Humboldt County?

One of the alternatives is foreign management, like the potential Chinese owners or the British bank investors or Pacific Lumber’s Maxxam. Another alternative, one I prefer, is local ownership with real democratic worker participation in an ESOP.

We can choose the future direction and economic development of our community, and we need to act now to make it happen or we will lose this opportunity forever. The workers of Local 49 ask for your support and input.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Humboldt Bay Rail with Trial or Bust by 2019!

The North Coast Rail Authority (NCRA) met at the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors chambers yesterday and Karen Diemer, the City of Arcata Environmental Services Deputy Director gave an update on the Humboldt Bay Rail with Trail Project.  The phase 1 portion of the project is funded and should be completed by the end of 2015 to Samoa Boulevard. Phase 2 to Bracut has also been funded and should be completed by 2016. Phase 3 or the “Bay Trail South” phase to Eureka is more complicated and will require a 2 year environmental review and has not been completely funded. Most likely won’t be complete until 2019. Lots of sea level rise, Eucalyptus tree and freeway crossing issues.  Once the trail is able to connect to Eureka, there are other processes to connect. Phase “C” or the North end of the Eureka side of the project is underfunded by about 1.5 million dollars. But on target to be complete by 2018. Phase “B” and “A” to southern Eureka are funded and hope to be completed by 2016. Lots of discussion on sea level rise and how that affects the project.
Other items of importance for the NCRA meeting was property management issues with Parallel Infrastructure and a cell tower in Willits. We agreed to terms outlined by the contractor. 6-2 yes.
The Directors for the NCRA agreed to move forward to a property configuration that positions the NCRA to sell property in Ukiah. A big move to put the agency into the black for many years to come.