Displaced IP employees will get help from job center

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 28, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; The impending mid-summer closing date of International Paper has those at the job center planning their strategy for helping the 640 displaced workers.

Peggy Ballard, Natchez WIN Job Center manager, said mill employees have already started coming to the center for information.

&uot;We’ve started seeing people now,&uot; she said.

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On Thursday, International Paper announced it was going to dissolve the pulp mill by mid-2003 and exit the chemical cellulose business. The Natchez mill had been up for sale in 2000, but no buyer could be found.

Larry Stowell, vice president for the chemical cellulose department, said in February 2002 the board decided to halt efforts to sell the mill. IP employees tried for the next year and a half to produce quality, marketable products.

At this time, IP executives and union leaders are meeting to finalize the separation benefits for the mill employees. This decision means many mill employees will be searching for jobs in a time of economic downturn.

Ballard said in her 25 years of working at the job center she has never seen a situation where so many people in Natchez would be displaced from their jobs at the same time.

&uot;We’re taking about 640 people. I can’t think or anything this big. It’s going to take a while to get all of them settled and back into the labor force,&uot; she said.

In the next few months, the Natchez WIN Job Center will set up a date when staff members go out to the mill and start the Rapid Response program.

&uot;We’ll do several sessions to catch people coming off different shifts,&uot; Ballard said.

Rapid Response is coordinated through the Mississippi Development Authority. The sessions will focus on job search assistance and skills, unemployment compensation and the Trade Readjustment Act, which informs employees about other benefits they may qualify for.

&uot;That’s where we’ll start,&uot; Ballard said. &uot;Then we’ll start working with them on an individual basis here in the office.&uot;

At the job center, displaced mill workers will have other resources like videotapes on interviewing techniques, disks to help them write resumes and Internet access to help them do a nationwide job search.

IP’s closing will displace 519 hourly workers and 71 salaried employees. The average years of service for hourly is 18 and salaried is 24, so it has been a long time since many of them have had to do a job search. Many things have changed in that time, including the addition of Internet job searches, but Ballard said that helping IP employees get through this period is the main goal of the job center, which is located at 310 Briarwood Road.