Workers opt for IP buyouts

Published 9:35 pm Friday, December 12, 2008

FRANKLIN— More than 100 employees of International Paper Co. have opted to apply for the voluntary severance packages offered back in November after the mill announced it would eliminate 50 jobs.

Desmond Stills, the mill’s communications manager, said Friday that it has not been determined how many of those requests will be fulfilled.

“We are in the process of evaluating all of the requests that have been submitted,” he said.

Stills said he is unsure when a decision will be made, but is pleased by the number of requests.

“Our ultimate goal is that no one will leave the mill involuntarily,” Stills said.

The work force reduction was a result of the shutdown of its No. 3 uncoated freesheet paper machine used to make paper for envelopes.

“We opened up the severance packages to the entire work force so that we could identify who may want to pursue other career goals or career paths or interests,” Stills said after the buyout was announced.

According to Stills’ research, the Franklin mill has a history of offering buyouts rather than laying off employees outright.

“We definitely want to keep that record going,” he said.

The severance packages were negotiated for the employees through the local unions, Local 1488 and 505 of the United Steelworkers of America, and Chapter 176 of the National Conference of Firemen & Oilers District of Local 32BJ/SEIU.

Calls to a United Steelworkers representative were not returned by press time.

The permanent shutdown of the No. 3 uncoated freesheet paper machine reduced the company’s annual paper production capacity by approximately 150,000 tons of uncoated freesheet papers, down from its usual annual 900,000 tons.

The shutdown was due to a decline in demand, Stills said.

Until final decisions are made, the 50 workers displaced are keeping busy in other areas of the mill, Stills said.

“There’s a lot of painting and cleaning happening right now,” he said.

Stills said the fact that those 50 were not laid off but re-assigned says a lot about the company’s commitment to its workers.

“International Paper is a great company to work for, and I believe the company will do everything it can do to help those who are affected by the shutdown,” he said.