Mayor Paul Toms of La Scie described it as a difficult meeting, likely for a couple of reasons. One, the tone and attitude of some of the participants, he says was extremely “ignorant.” Second, the message amidst the ignorance was that the largest employer, economic foundation, and sole lifeline of his community, the Fish Plant, is in serious jeopardy of not having a future if something isn’t done quickly.
La Scie is home to a fish plant operated by Daley Brothers. The plant has been operational since the 60s under many owners, but has been under Daley management for the past several years. Each year, hundreds of residents of La Scie and the surrounding communities rely on the plant for seasonal work, while helping to process one of the many species that passes through the operation.
The main purpose of the plant is as a crab processor – but as Mayor Toms says, he’s now received word that Daley’s doesn’t have any product of any kind for their plant in La Scie this year, and have said they have no intentions of opening it.
Making the call
“I received a call on May 4 from Terry Daley of Daley Brothers,” explained Toms. “Mr. Daley advised that because there was no product for the La Scie plant, then the plant would not be operating.”
Daley apparently explained to Toms that he was willing to hand over the keys to the town, and didn’t want any money in return – his only request was that he wanted a couple pieces of equipment: an ice maker and a compressor, explained the Mayor.
“Other than that, he told me the plant was ready to go into production, if they could find product.”
From there, Mayor Toms stepped into action, and contacted MHA Kevin Pollard requesting a meeting with Government and the Daley’s to discuss the matter further. Those meetings were facilitated and happened on May 10 in St. John’s.
The severity of the situation is obvious – if the plant doesn’t open, then many workers are going to find themselves without employment and income for this year. With over 100 people on the seniority list at the La Scie plant, and up to 350 depending on it for employment each year, it could mean trying times for families in that community and others around it over the next several months.
But even larger than that for Toms, he says, is to see to it that the plant doesn’t close permanently – which would not only destroy the immediate future, but the long term life of the plant as well.
“If the plant closes for good, then it can’t ever open again,” explained Toms. “No operator could ever open it again. We really don’t want that to happen, so our main goal now is to stop that from happening.”
In the meetings with Government representatives, Toms says they learned that there’s three possible ways to keep the plant in operation. Those options were to either have Daley’s go ahead and operate the plant, let Daley’s find a new operator, or the town of La Scie could lease the plant for six months, and during that time operate it like normal, or seek a new operator.
Government explained to the Town, and others in attendance, that the plant and community have some advantages.
“We have a good labour force, excellent location, and a great product source,” explained Toms. “However, right now we have until the end of 2013 to make sure the plant becomes operational again, or else our license will be cancelled.”
Meeting the Daleys
It’s those messages, and a desire to work together, that Toms says he brought to the meeting with Terry Daley and others later that day. While the Mayor had never met with the company before, he said he was hoping they could reach a consensus. However, the reaction he received was not at all receptive, he said, and left him extremely upset.
Toms says he sat through a monologue of blaming from Mr. Daley, where Daley talked about the council, fishermen, Harbour Authority and residents of La Scie, and why they didn’t support their fish plant.
“He blamed everyone but himself,” explained Toms. “He said we’re all the reason the plant isn’t going to open – we’re the ones to blame.”
Toms says he felt insulted by what he feels was ignorance on the part of Daley, as he spoke about how the company’s heart is now gone out of La Scie, and how they want to focus their efforts elsewhere.
“He was pretty blunt,” he said.
Nevertheless, Toms still asked Daley what his intention was for the La Scie plant. Daley responded that they were working with a new potential operator, but would not disclose who it was.
We’re going to leave every option open to keep that plant open. - Mayor Paul Toms
“All he said was it was someone who has no experience operating a fish plant.”
Toms admits that he has some serious reservations about Daley’s proposal of a new operator, because the town doesn’t want a repeat incident – especially with an inexperienced party, who may not be able to fix an already delicate situation.
Other things that left Toms with a sour taste in his mouth was Daley’s admission that they had no intention of meeting with the Plant workers to explain the situation to them.
“He told me ’The worker’s knows – what’s the point in me meeting with them?’ I told him that it would be good to do it, since they’d all put in so much work over the years, but he wouldn’t hear talk of it.”
Toms says he also had serious concern over the fact that Daley’s maintained the fact that the plant is ready to open at a moment’s notice, and that everything is in place should a new operator come in right away.
“We’ve found out, that up until that meeting, at least, the company hadn’t even returned their licensing renewal package,” he explained. “They had that since February and didn’t bother to go for it.”
The equipment Daley’s wanted to remove, Toms says, is also a huge factor. The main pieces of equipment are vital to the operation of the plant, and no product could ever be processed without it.
The issue throughout the meeting, thought, kept coming back to the lack of product – with Daley complaining of the lack of boats that ship to them from La Scie. Toms says, though, that Daley’s has brought the problems on themselves, and the boat owners shouldn’t get all the blame.
“It’s a matter of the boats not shipping to that company, because they don’t trust them. I always gave the company the benefit of the doubt, up until this meeting.”
Toms says they’ve seen enough from Daley’s and are prepared to seek out a new operator for the plant. He hopes that they will be successful in their bid before the December 2013 deadline, so to prevent the license from being cancelled, and be at risk of shutting down for good.
Knowing long before
Toms says part of his frustration as well, is the lack of respect Daley’s had for the town and workers of the plant, to only be now bringing their intentions to light. Toms says he believes the company knew their plans long before now, but just weren’t going to inform anyone until it was too late.
The excuse of lack of product is also weak, says Toms, since the town themselves made effort to assist in the acquisition of product for the company.
“Our office took on itself this past winter to find some boats that were willing to ship to Daley’s,” he explained. “We had five boat owners that were willing to sit down and discuss price and if the price was competitive, then they were willing to ship to their own town.” However, Daley’s made no effort to contact the boat owners regarding their interest. Couple that with the non-action on the license renewal, and Toms says it speaks loud and clear to him. ”That tells me they had their mind made up a long time ago about this plant.”
So why the stalling and lack of communication? Toms says it’s a testament to the character of the company – which is why they’re trying to find the new operator as soon as possible.
MHA Kevin Pollard says he desperately hopes that something can be reached and agreed upon by all parties involved.
“For the sake of the people who would be drastically affected, I hope the town, the union and the company can reach some sort of agreement,” he said.
While Government has programs available for displaced fish plant workers, he says those programs aren’t available unless the fish plant is closed permanently.
At the meeting on May 10, Mayor Toms says Mr. Daley offered the letter if it was needed. However, he says they don’t want to go down that road, and are still holding out hope that there’s still a future for the La Scie plant.
“We’re going to leave every option open to keep that plant open,” he said. “The last thing we want is to see that plant close for good.”
A meeting is scheduled for Thursday for Union Workers to update them on the progress thus far.