BATON ROUGE (From news reports) -- The first wave of about 270 workers at Georgia-Pacific's paper mill north of Baton Rouge were laid off Tuesday, as the company begins a weekslong decommissioning process that will see more than 600 leaving their jobs.
Decommissioning at the Port Hudson mill has begun, said Georgia-Pacific spokesman Kelly Ferguson, and many of the mill's machines have been shut down. About 50 workers are expected to stay on temporarily to dismantle the portions of the plant that are closing for good.
Most of the remaining employees, many of which have worked at the mill for years, will leave the plant in the coming weeks, with the largest wave happening Tuesday. Ferguson said 50 to 55 salaried employees will exit Friday, and another large wave of hourly workers will leave in mid-April.
Georgia-Pacific, which is owned by Koch Industries and is based in Atlanta, announced in January it was shutting down a major division of the mill. The move is expected to affect roughly 650 local workers, and the firm has said another 40 business and sales jobs are being eliminated in Atlanta.
The company is closing down its office paper machines, converting assets, woodyard, pulp mill and most of its energy-generating complex in Port Hudson, off U.S. 61 north of Baker. The decision comes as Georgia-Pacific leaves the paper communications business entirely.
Union representatives at the plant negotiated a severance package for the workers being affected. Kendall Gerald, president of the United Steelworkers Local 1334, said the package is an "industry standard" one. Gerald, like some others at the mill, are staying on permanently to work at the mill producing toilet tissue and paper towels, divisions that will remain open and employ about 300 workers.
Laid-off maintenance workers are having an easier time finding jobs at industrial sites across the region, Gerald said. Those on the production side have skills that are harder to transfer to another type of work. And those that do find work are often taking a pay cut.
"You got to start at the bottom. Their pay rate starts back at the bottom of the ladder, and they got to work your way all the way up again," he said. "It's a sad situation, but it is what it is."