Barry ends lease with company
It was a sad day for the approximately 160 Cooke employees at the company’s processing operation in Harbour Breton as they were informed on Friday, January 11 that the company would no longer be operating the facility as of January 31, 2014.
© Clayton Hunt photo
This group of former Cooke employees, and many others, received some upsetting news on January 11. Cooke Aqua informed its employees at Harbour Breton that the Barry Group of Companies would not renew the company’s lease at the plant. As a result, Cooke will not be operating the plant as of January 31, 2014. The FFAW will be meeting with government officials and the Barry Group of Companies in the near future to discuss the ongoing operation plans for the facility.
Chuck Brown, a communications official with Cooke Aqua, said on January 13, “I can confirm that the landlord has decided not to renew our lese and that we will no longer be operating the facility as of January 31.
“We want to express our sincere appreciation to all our employees at the Harbour Breton facility who have supported our processing division since we started production there in 2008.”
With regards to Cooke’s future in the Coast of Bays, Brown said, “We will continue to look at our options to meet our processing requirements in our Newfoundland operations, and we expect to require processing capacity by the spring or summer of this year.”
Melinda Langdon, the president of the FFAW union local in Harbour Breton, said that the key question with a Barry operation at the facility is how big will the operation be? Does he intend to operate with the same number of employees, about 160, that Cooke employed?
Langdon said one of the immediate concerns for the employees is that they will lose their health insurance with Cooke Aqua as of January 31, 2014.
“This is a major concern, “Langdon said, “as many employees relied on that insurance to help with their medical costs.”
Chuck Brown said that Cooke Aqua reached out to the employees on Friday, January 10 to inform them that their Blue Cross health care coverage will cease as of Jan 31. The company urged everyone to contact Blue Cross directly to ascertain their rights to convert their coverage to another plan either through a new employer or as individuals.
Greg Pretty, the Industrial Representative of the FFAW in Newfoundland, said that the health insurance coverage would be one of the topics the union would bring up to Fisheries and Aquaculture Minister Keith Hutchings in a meeting the union hopes to have with him on January 17.
Pretty said, “Immediately after being informed of the situation by Cooke on January 10, we asked for a meeting with Minister Hutchings on Friday, January 17.
“The government has made a sizeable investment in the aquaculture industry in the Coast of Bays. We hope that the government can also make a similar investment in the workers in the area.
“Hopefully, the government money invested in the aquaculture industry was not just for the companies but for the workers too.”
Pretty said that one of the immediate points to discuss with government is the employees’ health insurance.
“The workers enjoyed a fairly decent health plan with Cooke Aqua. Most of these workers are middle aged and they probably won’t receive the same degree of coverage from another carrier at the same price. Some may even be excluded from any further coverage.”
Pretty said that the union will also be requesting a meeting with Bill Barry
“The Barry Company has no salmon of its own to process and this situation has raised a note of uncertainty about the future. We need more details about the future plans for the facility from Mr. Barry,” Pretty said.
“With all the salmon in the Coast of Bays area Barry should be able to maintain a sizeable workforce at the facility. We would hate to see all the resource being shipped out to New Brunswick for processing, as this would be waste of the province’s investment in the aquaculture industry.
A spokesperson for the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture said on January 15 that Minister Hutchings is fully aware of the Harbour Breton situation. Officials are arranging a meeting with the union representatives in the near future, although it would not held be on January 17.
According to the official, Barry does have a plan of action for the facility and is intent on continuing operations. However, the spokesperson said that no details of those plans were available to be released at this time.
MHA Tracey Perry
Perry said on January 13 that she would continue to meet with officials from the companies and the various town councils involved to discuss the important issue going forward.
“The key concern, “Perry said, “is to maintain the levels of employment we already have in the industry. We hope that this is just a management change in the operation in Harbour Breton and that the facility continues to operate.”
Mayor Roy Drake
Mayor Drake said that he was informed on Friday January 10th by a Cooke official that that the company had notified their employees earlier in the day that the layoff that were given in the fall would now become a permanent layoff.
This is due to the fact that they were unable to renew their lease of the facility from the Barry Group. This was not totally unexpected because the Barry Group had indicated in the past that they would like to take over operations and process product in Harbour Breton in 2014.
Council will keep in close contact with the Barry Group about the ongoing situation.