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Governor visits IP

FRANKLIN — Bob McDonnell used his first visit to Franklin since being inaugurated as governor to visit with International Paper Co. mill employees and local officials to discuss ways the state can help the 1,100 workers who will be affected by the mill’s closure this spring.

Meanwhile, groups of IP employees will reportedly be laid off about every two weeks, beginning with 19 workers on April 4. Most of the mill workers will reportedly be gone by July 1.

“We know this is a terrible blow to the community,” McDonnell said. “We understand that International Paper has had to make some tough business decisions as to what is in its interests. My goal today is to listen and to learn a little bit about what is in store for the employees, what efforts we are making for the retraining and placement of our citizens, and to learn a little bit more about what International Paper’s plans are for the plant.”

McDonnell added, “We are very encouraged with a number of inquiries from significant businesses around the country that have expressed some interest in possibly purchasing the plant or otherwise doing business in the vicinity, which will help tremendously.”

One of the workers McDonnell met was Teresa McCaskey, a paper machine inspector from Carrsville. On Jan. 23, she will have been an employee at the mill for 23 years.

“Are there other programs that you can put in act for us to help us?” McCaskey asked the governor. “There are people out here that don’t have jobs, and they’re getting food stamps. We’re not going to have the income that we had before, and it’s either (going to be that) or you’re not going to eat, or you’re not going to be able to buy your essentials, or you’re not going to be able to pay for your home and you’re going to lose your home.”

After she met with McDonnell, McCaskey said she believes she will need to find another job after her days of working for IP are over.

“I would love to be a nurse, but I’ve been out of school for so long,” McCaskey said. “I don’t know if I can do it emotionally and educational-wise. I would have to have a lot of prep. Two years ain’t going to make it. That’s why I feel like I’m going to have to go work.”

McDonnell met behind closed doors for about 30 minutes in an office at the mill with local officials.

Carroll Story, president of Local 1488 of the United Steelworkers of America, said Tuesday that there are about 700 hourly and 110 salaried workers remaining at the mill.

“We’re going to have waves of employees that go out from here forward,” Story said. “The paper machines will shut down on April 15. As the machines shut down, the rest of the mill kind of follows. That’s when the waves of employees will go out.”

Story said IP sent a letter dated Feb. 1 to local government officials in compliance with the federal government’s Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act. He said the letter officially gave notice that 19 mill employees would be let go April 4.

“There will be a group (of layoffs) about every two weeks as the need for workers is reduced,” Story said, adding that a large group, perhaps 300 workers or more, would be laid off in mid-May, about one month after the paper machines are shut down.

Story said the back end of the mill — which contains the converting, roll finishing and sheet finishing processes — employs about 250 people and would be among the last jobs phased out.

“That will be the last thing, because they have to take product off of the machines and convert it into paper,” Story said.

Story said McDonnell can do a lot as governor to help the displaced workers, including using his office to encourage the federal government to continue offering $25 a week for retraining and education. The $25 — part of the stimulus package that is set to expire this summer — is in addition to the $378 a week in unemployment benefits that mill workers will receive.