EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — The majority of about 140 Katahdin Paper Co. LLC workers furloughed last month due to declining orders will be back at work Monday, a company spokesman said Friday.
Effective Monday, the company’s No. 5 machine will be making newsprint or directory paper for an undisclosed customer or customers, said Bill Peterson, director of human resources at Fraser Papers, the company that runs the East Millinocket and Millinocket mills for parent company Brookfield Asset Management.
“Right now we have enough orders to start back up, so we are restarting the machine,” Peterson said Friday. “We’ll run the machine for as long as we have orders.”
Peterson did not know how long that would be. Rick Grunthaler, human resources director for Katahdin Paper, could not be reached for comment Friday.
Only the special projects work crew — who were among the 140 workers furloughed last month — will not be returning to work, Peterson said. He did not know how large that crew is.
The company announced Feb. 6 that it would be shutting down the No. 5 and idling about 140 of 491 hourly and an undetermined number of salaried workers for up to 28 days starting Feb. 9 as part of efforts to build cash flow by running paper machines only with orders in hand.
Fraser’s policy promotes the management of cash flow by avoiding the creation of speculative inventory. Citing stiffening worldwide competition in the paper market, the weak national economy and a lack of confirmed orders, Fraser began idling some of its six machines and furloughing workers at its Madawaska mill in January.
With its sister mill in Millinocket temporarily idled since September as Fraser and Brookfield officials look to change the Millinocket mill’s steam generation power from oil to biomass, the East Millinocket mill’s furloughs threatened the Katahdin Paper Co.’s status as the Katahdin region’s largest employer.
Mark Scally, chairman of the town’s Board of Selectmen, said he was pleased the mill was restarting.
“I talk to people and they have been through this so many times, they are almost numb to it,” Scally said Friday. “I talked to one guy and his reaction was, ‘You know what? I don’t care anymore.’ But once again I think a lot of people were hopeful that they would start up again once they got the orders.
“If that indeed is what they have done, we will be thankful for that,” Scally added.
Peterson said he had no news on the Millinocket mill’s future except to say that Fraser and Brookfield continue to look for a partner to handle the mill’s biomass operations.