Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Palco Severance Comes Through!

Posted By on Tue, Jun 23, 2009 at 6:44 PM

Feel-good story of the week: 51-year-old Eureka resident Brian Connors, a friend of the Journal, has been one of the unluckiest people in Humboldt County in recent years. Back in December 2006 he was laid off from his job at Pacific Lumber. Then company's then-parent corporation, the infamous Maxxam, promised him and 89 other laid-off workers a severance package ... but promptly declared bankruptcy a couple of weeks later, leaving the severance in legal limbo.

Connors later got a job at Evergreen Pulp, the old pulp mill in Samoa which had been taken over by the multinational Chinese paper firm Lee & Man. Then, late last year, Lee & Man abruptly shut down the mill and split town, leaving workers unemployed and obligations to their medical insurance plan unfunded. (Connors wasn't the only person in the county to experience this particular double-whammy, of course.)

Then, this month, everything turned around. There was some good news just a couple of weeks ago. Connors picked up a job as a bus driver for Humboldt Transit Authority, about a secure a gig as you can get in this economic climate. On Monday, though, something miraculous happened. Completely out of the blue, there arrived a check for $8,000. The long-promised and mostly forgotten severance package from Maxxam had finally arrived, courtesy of the bankruptcy court trustee.

It's not certain, but it seems that the same story played itself out in the households of the 89 other people who were in that round of Maxxam layoffs with Connors. Supervisor Mark Lovelace said Monday afternoon that he had been in touch with a few people in Connors' cohort, and reported back that one had received a check that same day.

In his enthusiasm -- and because he and others had assumed their severance was lost forever in the bankruptcy proceedings -- Connors made a slight error. He credited the new Humboldt Redwood Company, Pacific Lumber's successor firm, with unilaterally sending out the promised checks simply to be decent people.

"I don't know why [Humboldt Redwoods'] Fisher family said, 'OK, let's pay them,'" Connors told the Journal shortly after opening the envelope. "But it tripped me out, dude."

This turns out not to be the case. In fact, payment of the severance packages (or a high percentage of each one) was part of the deal Humboldt Redwoods and its partners struck in court. "Certainly we're really happy for folks, and we think it's meaningful for them to get paid at this time, but it was a matter of law and it was how the bankruptcy proceeded," said Humboldt Redwoods President Mike Jani Tuesday.

The county can rejoice along with the recipients of the long-overdue packages: As Connors pointed out, the payments amount to perhaps $1 million suddenly injected into the local economy, maybe more.

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