Back in the fall of 2004, it appeared the future was very bright for Northern Breweries as William Sharpe, a respected businessman announced he was taking over as president and CEO.
Sharpe announced plans to spend millions of dollars to modernize the Lorne Street plant in Sudbury and a second plant in Sault Ste. Marie.
Sharpe originally announced he would upgrade the Sudbury plant by the fall of 2005 to the tune of $10 million and create 80 full-time jobs. Later in 2005, he upgraded those plans to $20 million to upgrade facilities, which would create more than 200 full-time jobs.
The city agreed to waive $640,000 in back taxes owed by Northern as part of Sharpe’s takeover bid.
But 18 months later, Sharpe announced his efforts to try and find investors had not paid dividends and both plants would be forced to close.
Two veteran employees, Claude Blanchard and Mauro Sorcinelli, were remarkably upbeat months after Northern closed its doors and didn’t hold any hostility towards Sharpe.
Blanchard told Northern Life he actually admires Sharpe, who he says worked extremely hard to try and salvage the historic Sudbury brewery.
“My hat is off to Mr. Sharpe because at least he tried his best,” said Blanchard, who was a longtime sales representative. “I got to know him very well...and I know how hard he worked to try and save this place.”
Sorcinelli, 58, the longtime union (Local 2 of the Service Employees International Union) representative for the handful of employees who remained at Northern, also didn’t question Sharpe’s motives.
“If he didn’t come on board when he did to try and save this place, none of us employees would have had a paycheque for 21 months and for that I’m grateful,” he said. “I know he really tried to get the funding in place to make a go of this place, but unfortunately things didn’t turn out the way he planned.”
The battle for pension plan funds for the Northern Breweries continues as we head into 2007.
The few remaining employees who lost their jobs in Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie over the past two years are anxious to gain access to their pension fund, said Cam Nelson, president of the union representing Northern employees in the north.
“There’s no doubt it’s a difficult situation,” said Nelson.
Northern Breweries management over the past few decades contributed to a fully-funded pension plan, meaning the company paid all the dividends and employees did not have to make any contributions outside of regular union dues, said Nelson.
Many of the employees who lost their jobs have been in regular contact with the union office asking for updates about the pension plan, said Nelson.
“So would you if you were part of a pension plan for 30 years and suddenly you’re out of a job and you’re wondering when you can start collecting your pension,” he said.
“There’s a lot of money owed and a lot of our employees had 30 years of service or close to it and obviously they’re very concerned about their pension plan.”