Fewer orders closing IP mill for 17 days

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 18, 2008

A downturn in orders will shut down International Paper’s Vicksburg Mill for 17 days starting Sunday, a company release said this morning.

About 240 of the mill’s 305 employees will be affected by the temporary closing, manager Tom Macher said. The action, termed a lack of order downtime, has been taken during slow times in the past as a way of keeping costs down.

“Our company is committed to managing our supply to meet the needs of our customers, including making adjustments for how our order book develops during the remainder of this fourth quarter and into 2009,” Macher said. “We understand the impact this announcement has on employees who will be laid-off as well as their families, and we’re taking steps to assist them and address questions or concerns that arise.”

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Employees may use any unused vacation or personal holidays during the downtime to minimize loss of income in the next three weeks.

The plant on Mississippi 3 was restarted in November following an explosion May 3 during routine maintenance to a recovery boiler that killed one man and injured 17 other workers. All were contract employees.

IP was fined $77,000 in November by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which found one willful and serious violation as a result of an inquiry into the cause of the blast. According to the findings, the company failed to start the recovery boiler without adequate steam and did not develop safe procedures to start up the recovery boiler when the primary power boiler is off-line. Also, findings stated IP did not have written procedures to determine that an adequate amount of odorant was being added to natural gas supply coming into the power plant.

Two lawsuits filed by injured contract workers are pending against the company, one in federal court and another in Warren County Circuit court. Both seek compensatory and punitive damages.

This morning’s announcement appears to affect its work force the least in comparison to job cuts and other downsizing announced by the company since September.

IP announced Friday up to 1,500 salaried jobs will be cut by the end of 2009 in an effort to cut costs and make the Memphis-based firm more competitive. The company had 51,500 employees at the beginning of 2008.

In regulatory filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company said it sought to save $400 million from its $6 million purchase of Weyerhauser Co.’s packaging facilities in August.

Its pulp mill in Bastrop, La., closed permanently in November, with falling demand and a weak global economy cited. Other moves have included closing a paper production machine at a mill in Virginia and idling containerboard machines in Oregon and Oklahoma for at least three months.

Shares of IP opened at $13.16 this morning, up 11 cents from Wednesday but fell slightly by midmorning. Its stock price has ranged from $10.20 to $33.77 in the past year.


Contact Danny Barrett Jr. at dbarrett@vicksburgpost.com.