Layoffs coming at mill

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 1, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; By 7 a.m. Monday, another 80 people will have been laid off by International Paper’s Natchez mill, company officials confirmed Tuesday.

That includes &uot;some employees (who) had already chosen to leave early and have been released to do so,&uot; said Marshall Murphy, senior communications manager, who is based in IP’s Memphis regional office.

IP announced Jan. 23 it would close its 52-year-old Natchez mill by the middle of the year, leaving 640 people out of work, due to a poor market for the chemical cellulose it produces.

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Out of the 80 layoffs that were announced Tuesday, several senior employees of the mill have taken early releases in order to pursue new jobs or retire.

&uot;The remainder are junior employees who would rather be laid off now&uot; to pursue other jobs, said mill Manager Steve Olsen.

&uot;This is that ‘first wave’ (of layoffs) we talked about&uot; at the time the closing was announced, Olsen said.

In addition, more than 30 employees had already accepted transfers to other IP mills. That will bring the number of employees remaining at the mill to about 530.

&uot;Some of the salaried people will be able to get positions with other companies,&uot; Olsen said. &uot;And other IP mills are looking at both hourly and salaried employees. Some will be able to transfer, but not all.&uot;

No other layoffs are planned until the mill shuts down in mid-2003. &uot;That date is still being finalized,&uot; Olsen said.

Olsen said he wants to applaud the mill’s workers. &uot;They’ve done a great job of working at the mill, especially under such tough circumstances,&uot; he said.

Meanwhile, several companies have visited the Natchez mill to see whether they could use all or part of the facility.

&uot;We’ve even allowed them to interview hourly employees at the mill site,&uot; Olsen said, adding that tours of the facility by other companies &uot;are ongoing.&uot;

He declined to name any of the companies, saying it would be premature to do so.

IP officials also said it is also too early to say what will happen to the facility itself if a buyer cannot be found.

&uot;Eventually, the site may be dismantled, (but) we don’t have final plans at this time,&uot; Murphy said.

&uot;Those plans probably won’t be finalized under the end of summertime,&uot; Olsen said.