PLATTSBURGH - One of the city's larger employers will downsize next month by laying off approximately 70 employees.
Kirk A. Stallsmith, general manager of the Georgia-Pacific facility in Plattsburgh, said employees were notified Dec. 9-10 there will be an approximate 20 percent reduction in the workforce. The mill, which currently employees 347 people, will indefinitely lay off a combination of hourly and salary full-time employees Jan. 16. Salaried employees affected by the lay-offs will be offered standard corporate severance packages, though hourly employees will not.
The lay-offs are among approximately 850 announced across Georgia-Pacific facilities across North America, with a decline in customer demand for certain products and the state of the economy cited as the reasoning behind the decisions.
"Converting operations, maintenance, warehouse - each division is getting affected to a certain degree," explained Stallsmith. "This is impacting Georgia-Pacific across the board. It's a tough economic time for the company and our sister companies."
Locally, Georgia-Pacific already had plans to reduce its workforce earlier this fall, said Stallsmith, when a series of meetings was held in September. Then, management communicated there would be downsizing as a result of a decline in demand for certain products such as paper napkins and paper towels, which are among the main products turned out by the Plattsburgh facility. Voluntary severance opportunity packages, or VSOs, were offered at that time, resulting in about 20 accepting the packages.
"Since that time, since we had those communication meetings, the market obviously took a turn for the worse," Stallsmith said, referring to the sub-prime mortgage crisis and declining housing market. "Subsequently, a number of Georgia-Pacific's businesses have been hit very hard by the economic climate ... The impact of the economic change to parts of our business is going to require us to speed up the process that we downsize."
The corporation's main areas feeling the economic pinch company-wide are its building products and packaging divisions, though those divisions aren't housed in Plattsburgh, said Stallsmith. However, retail napkin and towel divisions like the ones located here which produce products like Brawny and Sparkle, are also being hit hard, he said.
"[Paper napkins and paper towels] fall into a category that when times get tough, consumers often times view as a discretionary-type product," he said.
The corporation's bathroom tissue division is one which appears to be performing well, said Stallsmith. The Plattsburgh facility's bathroom tissue operations were expanded earlier this year with a $20 million investment that allowed for the production of Quilted Northern Ultra Plush Bath Tissue, a three-ply branded product that has been "performing well in the marketplace," he said.
"That's the basis from which we hope to grow," said Stallsmith.
Jeffrey C. Dickinson, president of United Steelworkers Local 387, the union which represents the mill's employees, said the decision to lay off the employees wasn't unfavorable, but understandable given the state of the economy.
"We don't like it," Dickinson said of the lay-offs, "but we can see for us to be competitive that we're going to have to downsize ... We just want to help the business make money and grow so we can hopefully get some of these people back here."
Stallsmith said Georgia-Pacific will host job fairs after the start of the new year, and has already begun communicating with local employers interested in hiring "qualified, talented individuals." Classes on resume writing and financial planning will also be hosted, he said, adding management and the union will "work together professionally to do what's right for the employees."
"We're going to do everything possible to assist our employees through this transition," said Stallsmith. "Our whole intent is to have people hopefully not miss a beat from working at Georgia-Pacific to working in another facility or another plant so they don't end up in an unemployment situation. If they do, hopefully it's not for very long."