The pinnacle of cooperative success
Bernard Cournoyer is proud to say that the worker-shareholders cooperative that he helped set up in 2004 to buy Cavalier Textiles has fulfilled its mission of saving the spinning mill and maintaining jobs in Sherbrooke during all these years.
Share October 2, 2020 Updated October 3, 2020 at 11:30 am Share The pinnacle of cooperative success
Jacynthe Nadeau La Tribune For the founding president of the FilSpec worker-shareholder cooperative, there is no doubt that we are talking about a success story. And the sale of the company to the Monterey group, even if it means the end of the cooperative adventure, is the pinnacle of this success.
“In the context, it was the best scenario”, does not hesitate to say Bernard Cournoyer, mechanic by trade and president of the union when the CTA was set up in 2004 to buy Cavalier Textiles, which was placed under the protection of the Creditors Arrangement Act the previous fall.
“The business was in decline and we were heading for closure. (…) It took two months to buy the assets of Cavalier Textiles with other shareholders. It happened so quickly that we didn't really understand what was going on. “
Alongside Ronald Audet as main shareholder, an investment company formed by company executives and Desjardins venture capital, the almost 200 workers had agreed to each put $ 1000 on the table and invest 5% of their salary to save their jobs. With this down payment, they were able to borrow $ 1.5 million and own 17% of the business.
“In 2004, relaunching a textile business in Sherbrooke was quite an achievement! »Remembers Bernard Cournoyer.
In 2005-2006, a new crisis, the shareholders were called upon to reinvest and the workers became the majority with 46% of the shares.
“Textiles have never been easy. The rest of us, our goal was not to make money, but for everyone to keep their jobs. We said to ourselves that if we do a year, it will be a year, then it's been two years, three years, five years. Then at one point, we are ten years old, the co-op is doing well, the business is doing well, and we start making some money. “
The challenge was significant since it was also necessary to rebuild the credibility of the company with its suppliers, undermined by the setbacks of Cavalier Textiles.
“Initially, FilSpec had 280 to 300 customers for the same number of products. But you couldn't beat the Chinese on mass production. We bet on small batches of the same product delivered on time. The workers had enough flexibility to bet on it and that's how we rebuilt our reputation. “
Bernard Cournoyer left the company in 2009 to become an advisor to the CSD (Central of Democratic Unions). He continued to sit on the Board of FilSpec as an observer until 2012 and is still with the company as a union advisor.
He has only good words for all these ex-colleagues who believed in this adventure and still salutes their know-how.
“One important thing, and that's what made Monterey buy FilSpec, was the expertise of the workers in that plant. We have a very good research and development department and the workers had the intelligence to develop threads that were basically almost impossible to make, with machinery that was not to break everything. “
A perfect match
According to him, the tide started to turn at FilSpec in 2015, when we wanted to develop, too quickly too large, world markets. Expenses eventually exceeded income. Rationalization plans were put in place, buyers showed up, and then the pandemic struck.
Against this backdrop, Monterey's offer arrived as a perfect match.
“Monterey already had weaving, dyeing and lamination factories. The only portion they lacked was a spinning mill and it works well, there was one for sale in Sherbrooke, at the other end of 55. They were already customers here and they knew what we could do. to do. He knew that if the company closed, they should have sourced elsewhere and they might not have found the same quality elsewhere, ”summarizes Mr. Cournoyer.
Even if it means abandoning the cooperative ideal?
“FilSpec would go into the wall and if we hit that wall, everyone would lose everything. The Board presented the proposal to the workers and the choice was simple. They chose to sell the business to get their logs back. It's money anyway, for some workers it can represent $ 10 to $ 12,000. “
Sixteen years later, Bernard Cournoyer affirms that none of the workers of the cooperative has lost money in the adventure.
Those who have retired or who have changed jobs had already recovered their investments and those who remain after the dissolution of the cooperative will do the same, in addition to sharing their share of the proceeds of the sale, which does not has not been encrypted.
He is also very proud to point out that FilSpec's CTA has helped bring more than 70 workers to their retirement since 2004, in jobs where they excelled and in their hometown.
In this regard, he also shares his wish that the government slow down the relocation of jobs by setting up a mechanism to force entrepreneurs in difficulty to first turn to their workers before trying to sell to foreign interests.
“Today, to start a CTA, it can take a year and a half to two years because of the complexity of the laws. Then it takes people trained in cooperative governance to keep it alive, so it's not easy. Our governments should look into this to make it easier. We did it in two months, but everyone I talk to says it's an all-time record. “