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Paper machines wind down today

FRANKLIN—Thursday will be the last day of operations for the final two paper machines at International Paper Company’s Franklin mill.

Franklin Mill Communications Manager Desmond Stills said Tuesday that IP still plans to shut down the Nos. 4 and 5 machines on Thursday, adhering to the plan the company unveiled in a Feb. 26 letter to Franklin and Isle of Wight County officials.

Stills said there were no changes to the plan, which also calls for the termination of 106 employees on April 30.

“It’s been hard for people,” Carroll Story, president of Local 1488 of the United Steelworkers of America, said Tuesday. “Reality is setting in. We’re still going to have a few folks there for a little bit longer, as far as buttoning up the machines and getting the place ready, putting it in a stable state, shutting the mill down completely.”

According to IP, of the 106 employees to be let go at the end of April, 51 are paper mill employees, 30 are in fibers general operations and 19 work at the fibers recycling plant. Another four workers are in the roll finishing department, and two are in the fibers wood yard.

All of the affected workers belong to one of three unions at the mill. Fifty-five are members of Local 1488, and 51 are with Local 505 of the United Steelworkers of America. The third union at the mill is Chapter 176 of the National Conference of Firemen & Oilers District of Local 32BJ/SEIU.

Story said things are pretty somber around the mill, “it’s not a great mood right now, as you can imagine. Some people have been there 30 or 35 years and it’s going away. There’s a lot of anxiety, a lot of uncertainty about the future.”

The Feb. 26 letter was sent in compliance with the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, as were subsequent letters the company sent out on March 18 and 25. In those letters, IP said it planned to terminate 33 hourly employees on May 21, 38 hourly employees from May 28 through 30 and four salaried employees on June 30 and July 31.

The company has not revealed how many hourly and salaried employees are still employed at the mill, but in February there were reportedly about 700 hourly and 110 salaried employees working there.

The company announced Oct. 22 that it would close the Franklin mill as part of a strategy of reducing production capacity. IP shut down the No. 6 paper machine at the mill on Nov. 9 and the No. 1 paper machine at the end of 2009.