Union eyes worker purchase of Wards Cove plant

Posted: Wednesday, January 08, 2003

KETCHIKAN -- Union fish processing workers want to buy one of the Wards Cove Packing Co. salmon plants targeted for closure.

The workers of E.C. Phillips & Son in Ketchikan announced their interest Tuesday through the International Longshoreman and Warehousemen Union Local 200, Unit 61.

ILWU has chosen to aggressively pursue an employee purchase of E.C. Phillips.

ILWU Local 200 Executive Board Member Robert Orr said no official vote has been taken, but most Unit 61 workers approve of pursuing the purchase.

E.C. Phillips employs about 50 full-time processing workers year-round, and the number nears 200 during the summer salmon season.

Orr said most of the full-time workers remain employed at E.C. Phillips, one of the nine seafood processing plants in Alaska to be sold by Seattle-based Wards Cove Packing.

Wards Cove Chairman Alec Brindle announced in December the company's decision to exit the salmon processing business after more than 70 years. The company will continue its crab and pollock operations.

Wards Cove retained the Seattle investment banking firm of Zachary Scott & Co. to help sell its salmon-related properties. Zachary Scott principal Michael Newsome said Tuesday that his company had not yet heard from the E.C. Phillips workers.

However, ''we've gotten a fairly positive response from several parties regarding the Wards Cove properties, including E.C. Phillips,'' he said.

Newsome described the overall sales process as being very much in the preliminary stages.

Orr said the ILWU workers are in the exploratory stages of determining how to finance such a purchase.

They're not alone in seeking to buy E.C. Phillips, which, in addition to processing salmon, also has a cold storage capacity of 2.5 million pounds and processes halibut, shrimp, geoduck clams, herring, sea cucumbers, rockfish and sablefish.

Last week Ketchikan Mayor Bob Weinstein announced that NorQuest Seafoods is interested in negotiating a purchase of E.C. Phillips.

NorQuest operates seafood processing plants in Ketchikan, Petersburg, Cordova and Chignik.

It's unclear what a buyer might pay for the E.C. Phillips business and properties.

The company's holdings include eight parcels totaling about 6.05 acres along the waterfront within Ketchikan city limits, according to borough records. The total assessed value of those properties is about $5.67 million.

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