ATC workers waiting

Published 8:51 am Friday, August 6, 2010

FRANKLIN—This October will mark two years since Steve Williams was laid off from ATC Panels’ Franklin plant.

“We have not gotten severance pay yet,” he said last week.

Williams, a former union official at the plant, and other former employees say the company is trying to dodge its contractual obligations to pay the severance packages.

“The bottom line is we’ve been waiting for years for our severance pay,” said Calvin Blow, a former union representative at the plant. “We don’t want any deals; we want what that book says.”

The plant, which used to be owned by Union Camp Corp., changed hands several times after International Paper bought all of Union Camp’s assets. The particleboard plant was sold to Aconcagua Holdings BVI, a company formed in May 2004 by Chilean investors.

Attempts to reach an official with ATC Panels for comment were unsuccessful. In February, company spokesman Rodolfo Salman told The Tidewater News the company was seeking investors to reopen the facility.

The plant in southern Isle of Wight County produced particleboard used for making furniture, cabinets and the like. At its height, ATC employed more than 130 people, but workforce cuts began several years ago.

Sam Penn, a United Steelworkers of America union official based in Hampton, said Wednesday that there is only one production employee left at the plant.

“For all intents and purposes, the plant is closed,” Penn said.

Former ATC workers say they can’t help but feel slighted when they look at the response of the union and government officials to the closure of International Paper’s Franklin mill.

“We’ve always been treated like the redheaded stepchild,” said Gary Griggs, a former employee and union official at ATC Panels.

Penn said the company has indicated it doesn’t have the funds to pay out the severance packages in full.

Griggs doesn’t buy that argument.

“They’re billionaires,” he said. “They have the money; they need to go on and pay us and be done with it.”

Penn said the union is “in negotiations now” with officials from ATC Panels. The company, he said, has indicated it wants to offer a settlement. He declined to give any specifics of the offer because all former employees hadn’t been notified, but he did say it was “nowhere close to being 100 percent” of what workers are owed.

Griggs, Williams and Blow said they aren’t interested in any settlements and they don’t think union leadership has pushed hard enough on their behalf.

“(The union is) trying to bargain with ATC, but this contract is already written up,” Blow said. “We’re finished bargaining; we’re looking to get our monies.”

Penn said the union has been fighting for the plant’s former workers.

“Our direction is to represent the members wholeheartedly, but if an offer is there to try and settle the case, then I’m obligated to present it to the membership before I make any decisions,” he said. “The guys are entitled to their severance packages.”

Penn said the union is in the process of notifying members of the settlement offer to get their thoughts.

“And we’ll go from there,” he said.