Skip to comments.Paper Mill Jobs Disappearing; Stunned Workers Look for Alternatives
Posted on 07/13/2008 5:22:20 AM PDT by Diana in Wisconsin
PORT EDWARDS, WI -- Steve Devine has traveled this road before.
Devine, who turns 57 next month, worked as a dispatcher at a trucking company for 16 years. But when the Wisconsin Rapids firm went out of business in 1991, he managed to land a good job nearby at the paper mill in Port Edwards, a village of about 2,000 nestled along the Wisconsin River.
Now, after 16 years at the mill, Devine is looking for a job again -- and his prospects are bleaker this time around. Montreal-based Domtar last month closed the Port Edwards mill, which is about 100 miles northwest of Madison, and eliminated 500 jobs from the region.
"There aren 't too many jobs in Wisconsin Rapids that pay $50,000 a year, " said Devine, who was making $21.48 an hour at the mill plus overtime. "At my age, there isn 't a lot of choices. "
The mill closing is the latest casualty in Wisconsin 's iconic paper industry, which has lost more than 16,000 jobs over 10 years, according to the latest state figures. It 's also another blow to the state 's struggling manufacturing base.
"You feel sorry to see any decent-paying jobs leave the state, " said Port Edwards Village President Ed Saylor, who worked at the mill for 35 years. He took a pay cut to work at another nearby Domtar mill after the closure was announced. "These jobs sent a lot of people 's kids to school and helped support the state 's economy. I 'm sure Janesville is just like we are. "
General Motors announced in June that it would stop production at its Janesville assembly plant by 2010. At one time, it employed more than 7,000 workers. Today, fewer than 2,500 work there, and those who remain are being phased out starting this summer.
Port Edwards has already started coming to terms with the situation Janesville will soon face: losing a business that virtually defined the community and offered workers a good living for many years.
"It is bad news, " said Connie Loden, executive director for Heart of Wisconsin Business & Economic Alliance, an economic development organization for the Wisconsin Rapids area. "It won 't happen overnight, but there are things in the works that will help us transition. "
No mill in mill town
Until last month, people had been making paper in Port Edwards for more than 100 years -- many kinds, most recently specializing in fine writing stock. At one point, the mill employed as many as 1,200.
But the impact of the closing is measured in more than jobs.
Over the years, mill profits built the YMCA, parks, the high school auditorium, the shopping center and the pool. The money funded marching band uniforms and helped start the fire department. Some in town still own lots given to them by the mill.
Today, corporate ownership is far removed from Port Edwards -- where a lumber mill owner trying to diversify his business started the paper mill in 1895. The business changed hands a number of times over the years, and jobs were trimmed in the process, until Domtar bought the mill in 2001.
For decades, the mill was locally owned. The brick smokestack at the mill still bears the NEPCO name, which stood for the Nekoosa Edwards Paper Co. For now, the fate of the shuttered 120-acre site is unclear.
"They didn 't just upkeep the mill, they kept the community up, " said historian Marshall Buehler, 81, who worked in sales for 39 years at the Port Edwards mill while it was still locally owned. "The paternalism is gone. "
Port Edwards is just one of several Wisconsin towns to lose longtime paper jobs this year.
In May, NewPage Corp. based in Miamisburg, Ohio, shut down a paper machine at its mill in Kimberly near Appleton, eliminating 125 jobs. NewPage also is eliminating about 200 white-collar jobs in Wisconsin Rapids. In June, it closed its mill in Niagara, in far northeastern Wisconsin, eliminating 319 jobs from the Marinette County community of 1,850.
Part of industry trend
Although Wisconsin has led the nation in paper making for more than 50 years, the latest layoffs are part of a decade-long trend.
In 1990, about 50,000 people worked in paper manufacturing statewide. Employment peaked in 1997 at 51,784, but tumbled to 35,445 by 2007, according to the state Department of Workforce Development.
The job losses are tied to several factors, including mergers and acquisitions by huge international firms and the fact that modern paper-making machines require fewer workers. In addition, the production of cheaper paper has been shifted to other countries such as China, Chile, Korea and Malaysia, where production costs are much lower and demand for paper is rising.
"People are coming to understand what is happening in the paper industry and the ownership structure, " said Don Novak, city administrator for Niagara, hard hit by last month 's closure. "Paper mills are no longer owned by paper makers. They're owned by investors. "
Even so, paper remains a $4 billion economic engine for Wisconsin.
The paper and forest products industry was the largest employer in 28 of the state 's 72 counties, according to a 2003 Wisconsin Paper Council analysis. In 14 more counties, it was among the top three employers, the Appleton-based trade group said.
"It means a great deal to the state, " said Jeff Landin, president of the Paper Council. "We 're concerned, but the industry is doing a lot to rein in their costs. "
Capital improvements to some of mills and job cuts of the last 10 years may help stabilize the paper industry in the state, he said.
Procter & Gamble in Green Bay recently started a new paper machine in one of its mills, and Wausau Paper is in the middle of a $15 million improvement project at its mill in Brokaw, just north of Wausau, he said.
"I'm heartened to see that there has been some investment in mills, " Landin said. "There are some things that are happening on the good side. "
'A big blow'
In Port Edwards, the mill closure left 500 workers with uncertain futures -- and big decisions to make.
"It came as a big blow, " Dick Goldamer, who started working at the mill in 1970, said of the announcement. "It scared me. I was 63, and I knew right there that that was the end of the road for me. "
He decided to retire, along with Edward Hasenohrl, 62, who started at the mill in 1966.
"I knew the end was coming, but I didn 't think it would come this fast, " Hasenohrl said. "But Dick and I are very fortunate. "
Another man who considers himself lucky is Saylor, the village president, who had to take a $4-an-hour pay cut to stay with the company. He was one of 73 Port Edwards workers with enough seniority to bump a less-experienced worker out of a job at the mill downstream in Nekoosa.
"I'm in good shape, " said Saylor, 55, who will see his hourly wage fall from $27 to $23. "You watch these young people, and you hope they can get a job. "
Devine, 56 years old but with only 16 years under his belt, didn't have enough seniority. So he had no choice but to take the severance -- 16 weeks of pay and six months of paid health insurance -- and look for a job. He worries now about when he 'll be able to retire, which he figures won't be until he 's 67.
Many of the younger workers who were laid off are going back to school, but Devine said that option isn 't realistic for him. Instead, he 's looking at an eight-week truck-driving course in Eau Claire. He hopes that will translate into a job that pays $30,000 to $40,000 a year, significantly less than he made at the mill.
If he doesn 't have a job after six months, he 'll switch to his wife 's health insurance plan. She works as a nurse four days a week. Their two children are grown and out of the house.
The Devines also have a second mortgage on their Wisconsin Rapids home from a remodeling project last year. He said they would have held off on the project had they known the mill would close.
"There was hope that someone would come in and buy the place, " said Jim Kizewski, president of the United Steel Workers Local 59, which represents workers in Port Edwards and Nekoosa. "It 's a shame. I don 't know who to blame. It 's devastating to hear that your plant is shutting down. "
Unions killing off domestic paper production same as here in Maine. My neighbor was in the same position as the guy in the story, making $22.00 an hour changing rolls on the milling machine and he was the shop steward beating the drum for more money. What he got instead is no job.
Unions killing off jobs and tax revenue
What a bunch of “whiners”.
You might start with yourself, then look at the overburdening EPA requirements, taxes, salaries, and union demands.
In this case ignorance is painful.
Just like firefighter, police and govt. workers....
When there is only one basket to hold all the job-market eggs, it's possible that there could be trouble when that basket tips over. The western part of the country is full of one-basket towns - they call them ghost towns.
DISGUSTING! Guy's been making a better wage than most fresh-outs from college with a hard-won technical degree dispatching trucks? And I'm supposed to feel sorry for him that his 'career' of 16 years is going down the buggy-whip tubes atage 56?
What did he do with his life until 40 when he got his cushy job talking on the dispatch radio?
Meanwhile, the guy has a wife working and able to provide health insurance....and single young kids going to school and starting out in the workforce are about to have to start paying this guy's Social Security benefits!!!
This is one of those whiners that Phil Gramm was talking about, and one of those callers Rush would berate for discounting out of hand as "not an option" moving, going back to school, etc....thus complaining there's no options precisely because he's setting limitations on his own marketability.
Oh, and if you're an employer, and you read this article along with his resume...do YOU want to hire Mr. Devine?
No mention of the costs imposed by the EPA on the US paper industry to clean up smoke stack emissions and water effluents. While it is a good thing not to have to smell the “rotten eggs” of a paper mill, the cost of retrofitting these old mills has been prohibitive...cheaper to build a new mill with all the bells and scrubbers than to revamp an old one.
Gee, I wonder why production costs are much lower.
I work in a paper mill in upstate New York and it's astonishing that we are still in business at all given the regulatory burdens we have to comply with.
I've always been optimistic about...well...everything.
But I'm now worried that we might not make it...
In discussing this with a postal economist he mentioned that he'd just read a paper about new paper mills. It seems they are really expensive (billions) and a new one is opened up for business just about every 2.7 years.
He noted that the startups occured irrespective of current economic conditions. After all, paper is readily stored for better times if need be.
The "beat" in mail volume would logically be a result in the relative drop in paper costs the opening of a new, more advanced major paper mill brings with it.
These smaller, older design mills in Wisconsin are doomed by externalities occuring in the Russian and Siberian boreal forests ~ new, modern, highly efficient paper mills. Still only one new one every 2.7 years (or thereabouts), but definitely requiring less personnel.
You might not have noticed it but Russian paper quality has improved tremendously so that now you almost can't tell it without reading the label on the roll.
You don't get paid what you are worth, you get paid what the JOB is worth. If you aren't worth what the job pays, you won't have that job very long. If you are worth more, you will be able to get a better job.
This especially applies to the self-employed.
Garde la Foi, mes amis! Nous nous sommes les sauveurs de la République! Maintenant et Toujours!
(Keep the Faith, my friends! We are the saviors of the Republic! Now and Forever!)
LonePalm, le Républicain du verre cassé (The Broken Glass Republican)
But do the Chinese cut trees and make pulp or do they just buy Russian paper to make cardboard for shipping?
I'm fairly well aware of the higher quality papers produced in SE Asia and that's gotta' hurt people here Fur Shur.
Saw this all of the time in Maine. What’s worse is that it’s hard to convince a 16-17 year old in HS that skipping college and gong to work for 40 grand a year at the mill...is a BAD idea.
The government piles on tons of unfunded mandates onto businesses.
Many of the lawyers who have taken over political positions have no real world businesses experience, thus make stupid decisions. ( Being polite )
Many of the corrupt communists who have taken over political positions want to destroy capitalism. Government unions will speed up this destruction.
What I would also tell high schoolers is to only expect to work for somebody else until you’re 40. They’d better start now planning for how they can have their own business by then, because once you hit 40, and you’re let go, if you don’t have those skills by then, it’s really going to be tough.
What do you know about papermaking?
Are you a papermaker?
Papermaking is a group of people who compete with other groups of people to make a product that other groups of people want to pay them to make.
This end customer, and the competitiveness of the other groups determine how lavishly Mr Devine is rewarded for his efforts.
It is called a business. Period.
I suppose you're one of those who says Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin cannot comment on foreign policy because they weren't in the military?
In other words, you have no more idea than a goat as to what Mr. Devine’s job actually entails.
But that would not be PC.
I imagine, like mills here in North America, there are both mills that have their own pulp mill (as we do) and ones that buy kraft (hardwood, softwood and post consumer).
It pretty much depends on availability of the desired species that is suitable for making the product.
What I am is a third generation papermaker who knows the difference between chalkboard wizards who imagine they can wipe their a$$es with “theoretical paper” and those who can actually make the tonnage.
So you have little respect for this johnny-come-lately truck dispatcher Mr Devine, then, too?
“This especially applies to the self-employed.”
Amen to that!
I was self-employed for many years while raising kids, but a few years ago Husband wanted to start his own business. He was a wage-slave while I started my home-based businesses, so I’m now returning the favor so we can have health insurance. We can’t go without it, because he’s already had two spinal surgeries and most likely more to come. I also needed to re-establish myself in the work force in the event that a future surgery disables him, which will really suck, LOL!
Luckily, the job I have (Garden Center Manager) is tailor-made for me and I just love it. However, it does sadden me when payday rolls around and I see all the dollars going to the Feds and the State that used to stay in my own pocket. There are ways around it, but self-employment (if you have the guts to do it) has SO many advantages over working for someone else, it’s amazing that more people don’t do it, even on a small scale, something on the side from home.
(In all honesty, I am seeing that more and more in others I work with; one woman is a potter, another makes jewelry, another re-habs and re-sells furniture and other “junque.”)
In many ways, people ARE waking up to the fact that we’re all Free Agents when it comes right down to it.
You do what you have to do in this world to take care of your own. No whining! :)
Well said! :)
I wonder how much demand for paper has dropped off with the deep losses in newspaper readership? That would seem to be cause number one.
No, I have very little respect for your commentary, because I know papermaking is a VERY mature industry that depends on low cost production, so whatever truck-dispatch duties entailed for Mr. Devine, his employer was getting a bargain.
Good, please explain what a dispatcher's skill set are and why it should bring in 51k a year.
I'll take a stab. That's what the union extortion racket was able to say the guy should get paid. Does he "know" anything ? Surely there are some skills he possess that are worth something. Perhaps not the 51K he's used to, but then, perhaps he doesn't really "know" anything.
“Local ownership and management is still possible. The local people can buy the mill.”
What the hell makes you think you're so much smarter than the people actually doing the job on the ground?
What industries can you point to that were "saved" by tossing out the Unions?
Skipping college is an excellent idea.
Let me just say that my husband is making around $20 an hour at a local (but nationwide) factory. He’s been there 7 years. What did he do before that? Anything he could, including riding a trash truck, shucking oysters, construction, sheet metal and another factory job that gave him the skills that got him his present job.
He worked his way up to having a decent job by showing that he worked hard, showed up on time and didn’t leave early, took on extra duties, worked nights and weekends and holidays and OT. Where he works now, is 12 hour, rotating shifts. 7am-7pm two days, couple of days off, 7pm-7am three or four nights, back on days again... It’s damn near impossible to find a college grad who wants to work that kind of shift in a factory, weekends, holidays, year in and year out. When I hired women for a hospital switchboard (24/7), my preference was over 40, because every time I hired a 20 something they complained about weekends and having to work EVERY Sat. and why couldn’t they have off Christmas and they’d come in late, want to leave early, call off with 10 minutes notice for dumb stuff.
He may be making more than the ‘hard won degree’ person but don’t make the mistake of thinking his position hasn’t been hard won or that he hasn’t spent probably close to 40 years getting to this point. He may have started out at the factory doing the dirtiest job there. I’d hire him, he probably knows the value of being a good employee. Say he does go to school for a couple of years - there aren’t too many employers who will hire an almost-60 year old.
How about anyone supercilious enough to say something as pedantic as "Companies don't open up just to put union people to work" for starters.
Newspapers Trim Newsprint Usage So Newsprint Producers Cut Production And In This Classic Case of Supply And Demand It Looks Like Price Increases Up To 30% May Stick this Year
By Jupiter, you have a point there. Tip o' my hat to you.
The Pulp and Paper Products Council (PPPC) reported June 23 that U.S. daily newspapers consumed 15.7% less newsprint in May than a year earlier, bringing the year-to-date total to 2.32 million tonnes — down 13.5% from a year ago.
The 442,000 tonnes of newsprint consumed by U.S. daily newspapers in May was the lowest monthly total in at least two and-a-half years, and continues a gradual, steady decline that appears unabated due to the downward trend in newspaper readership and advertising.
How about you demonstrate for me you have that background to understand the answer to your question by telling me what DOT requires of anyone whose job requires them to receive over the road chemical shipments.
Domtar, d.b.a. Domtar Paper Company LLC
Domtar Val d'Or Common Area 083-87S -
Domtar Pulp and Paper Products Inc.
Domtar Produits Forestiers
Domtar Produit Forestiers-archive
Domtar Paper Company, L.L.C.
Domtar Industries, Inc.
DOMTAR INDUSTRIES INC. - ASHDOWN MILL
Domtar Industries Inc.
Domtar Inc./Cornwall Mill
Domtar Inc. Windsor, Groupe
Domtar inc. Scierie de Matagami
Domtar Inc. Division de Windsor
Domtar Inc. - Forest Products Group - Red Rock
Domtar Inc. - archive
Domtar Forest Products Group / Timmins Operation
Domtar Distribution Group
Domtar - Windsor FMA Maine
Take your pick there's plenty to choose from.
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