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IP cuts employees hours

FRANKLIN, VA —Effective Feb. 2, the Sheet Conversion Department at International Paper Co.’s Franklin mill will operate 32 hours a week instead of 40.

Mill spokesman Desmond Stills said the reduction in hours is due to a lack of demand.

The Sheet Conversion Department takes large rolls of paper produced by the plant and cuts it down to product size.

“About 103 employees will be affected by the reduction, and they will remain on that schedule until demand increases,” Stills said.

Word of the Franklin reductions came a day after Memphis, Tenn.-based IP said its fourth-quarter operating profit tumbled from a year ago, hurt by a sharp decline in demand for paper products and weaker results from its distribution and forest products businesses.

The company reported a net loss of $452 million, or $1.07 a share, compared with a year-ago profit of $327 million, or 78 cents a share.

Quarterly sales rose 12.1 percent to $6.55 billion, driven primarily by gains from last year’s acquisition of Weyerhaeuser Co.’s packaging business.

Teresa Beale, executive director of the Franklin-Southampton Area Chamber of Commerce, said she was saddened but not surprised by the news about the Franklin mill.

“It’s a sign of the times,” Beale said. She said the reduction will eventually have some economic impact on local businesses.

“I don’t have the numbers, but with that number of workers bringing in less salary, there will be a trickle-down effect on the amount of disposable income spent with local merchants,” she said.

“It’s a tough year, but we’ll all get through it. At least no one is losing their jobs (in the IP reduction).

We are all finding that we have to make adjustments through this time.” In November, International Paper announced it was eliminating 50 jobs after a permanent shutdown of the No. 3 uncoated freesheet paper machine.

The company offered buyouts for interested employees, and more than 100 decided to voluntarily conclude their tenure with the company.

As a result, no employees at the Franklin mill were laid off, officials said. (Kathi Pines is a Staff Writer for the Tidewater News in Franklin, Va., a sister publication of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald.)