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IP layoffs underway

FRANKLIN, Va. – The first of approximately 1,100 workers at International Paper Co.’s Franklin mill will lose their jobs during the final hours of 2009, as the company shuts down one of the three paper machines still running.

Communications Manager Desmond Stills said Tuesday that the company is sticking with plans it announced in October to shut down the No. 1 paper machine — which makes uncoated freesheet, or copy paper — by the end of the year.

IP sent a letter dated Oct. 30 to City of Franklin and Isle of Wight County officials in compliance with the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act.

According to the letter, IP plans to terminate 166 hourly employees on Thursday. Of those, 61 are paper mill employees, 51 are in operational services, 19 are in fibers general operations and 15 are in planning, shipping and distribution. An additional 13 workers are in the power and recovery department, six are in wood-yard operations and one is in the accounting department.

All of the affected workers belong to one of three unions at the mill. IP said that of the 166 workers to be let go on Thursday, 76 are members of Local 1488 of the United Steelworkers of America, 62 are with Local 505 of the United Steelworkers of America, and 28 are members of Chapter 176 of the National Conference of Firemen & Oilers District of Local 32BJ/SEIU.

Stills said this week’s layoffs would be based “primarily” on seniority.

“They are based upon the contract between the unions and IP, which is primarily based on seniority,” Stills said.

Stills added that despite the impending closure of the entire mill by spring, mill workers are looking to the future.

“Our employees are getting great opportunities to pursue other employment,” Stills said. “The state’s rapid response center stationed at the mill has been a great help and has been very well utilized by employees.”

IP announced Oct. 22 that it would close the Franklin mill as part of a strategy of reducing production capacity. The company shut down the No. 6 paper machine at the mill on Nov. 9 and said at the time that the 32 affected employees would remain employed in other capacities until Dec. 31.

According to the Oct. 30 WARN letter, IP will retain 770 hourly and 187 salaried employees until the mill closes in the spring.

(Charlie Passut is a Staff Writer with the Tidewater News in Franklin, Va., a sister publication of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald.)