An estimated 120 employees at the Georgia-Pacific Sterling Sawmill no longer have jobs.
The workers were told on Thursday that the plant, in operation since 1982, will stop manufacturing operations immediately. The employees were told they will continue to be paid and receive all benefits through April 2.
Rick Kimble, senior manager of communications for Georgia-Pacific, said a team of company representatives went to the plant and met in person, first with plant management, followed by union leaders and then with employees to break the news.
Employees were surprised and disappointed with the announcement.
“It’s probably the toughest thing you’ll ever do,” Kimble said of telling workers they no longer have a job.
Some employees will be asked to continue showing up to the plant to help ship the remaining inventory of wood and to permanently close the plant. Many workers will collect a paycheck the next two months, regardless of whether they are asked to help shutter the plant.
Those who are asked to work will do because they don’t want a paycheck without working, Kimble said.
“It’s a matter of pride,” he said.
Laid off employees will have an opportunity to transfer to other Georgia-Pacific facilities across the nation if they are qualified for the open jobs, Kimble said.
There will also be a job fair scheduled sometime soon for those workers who are considering a career change.
“It will take a while for them to realize how this impacts them,” he said. “It could be an individual decision. We’ll do everything to help.”
The plant is being closed because of several factors, including the difficultly in getting timber at a competitive price. One of the problems is there is a shortage of workers qualified to work in the timber harvesting industry.
“Not everyone is interested in working in that type of environment,” Kimble said.
Another factor was housing starts are down, reducing the demand for wood and other Georgia-Pacific facilities have expanded their capacity to manufacture the same timber products.
“We have worked with that particular mill for a long time to make it more competitive,” Kimble said.
Another company spokesman, Randall Morris, said no decision has been made about what to do with the equipment inside the facility. When Gilman Paper Co. closed permanently in 2002, costing more than 900 employees their jobs, an auction was held to sell all the equipment in side.
Qualified employees who want to transfer to other Georgia-Pacific facilities may not have to travel far.
“There are 17 or 18 Georgia-Pacific facilities in this state alone,” Morris said. “There are opportunities for these Georgia-Pacific employees.”