Duluth, MN (Northland's Newscenter) - According to officials with Georgia Pacific, 141 employees will be out of a job come August 31st... that's all but two of the 143 workers that were employed at the Duluth plant.
Employees were informed of the news this morning, during a meeting, before being sent home for the day.
Spokespeople with the Atlanta–based manufacturing company say it was a tough decision, but one that was based on current market trends.
"Given the current market, we need to look to optimize our business and manufacturing process, looking at long–term vision for Georgia Pacific as a whole. We've got facilities across the country, and this is the best way to keep operations intact," said GP Spokesperson, Eric Abercrombie.
According to Regional Labor Market Analyst, Drew Digby, the mass layoff is indicative of the hollowing out of blue collar job opportunities in the Northland.
"We had a little bit of a recovery over the past 18 months, but that's really stalled out in manufacturing. The last few months there's virtually been no movement in our manufacturing jobs in the region," said Digby.
...and long–term projections don't bode well, either.
"In the long run, the projections are we're going to lose 3 to 10% of our manufacturing jobs that we have now. But, that's better than other places that might lose 20% of their manufacturing jobs," said Digby.
One silver lining, say company officials, is that this mass layoff falls under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, which requires that employees must be given 60 days notice for a plant closure.
"One thing that WARN does allow, is it allows us to be able to pay the employees for that 60 days, and provide benefits based on current wage and salary," said Abercrombie.
And, according to Don Hoag, of the Minnesota Workforce Center, in Duluth, state funding is available in response to mass layoffs, such as this, and goes toward finding employees that seek out the center new job opportunities.
"Hopefully the company will cooperate with [us] and let them survey the employees to find out more about their skill sets and type of work that they've been doing in the past, which will help us start to analyze to what extent there might be similar opportunities available in our local labor market," said Hoag.
While there's no guarantee at this point, Hoag is hopeful that the sheer size of the layoff will prompt a special state project that will have a budget specifically dedicated to serve employees affected by this layoff.
NNC reporters did speak with several employees as they were leaving the plant, this morning. We were told by employees that they couldn't comment on the matter. They claimed they'd been told if they did so, they would risk losing their severance packages.
Mayor Don Ness released the following statement regarding the news of the Georgia Pacific plant closure.
"The news from Georgia Pacific is disappointing given previous assurances from the company that it would not close this plant. We will start working immediately to support new operations at the plant. Meanwhile, our focus will be on the workforce that will be displaced. This is unfortunate and untimely news for our community. I'm very disappointed by this decision."