RUMFORD, Maine — NewPage on Tuesday said it would “indefinitely” stop operation of one of the paper machines at its Rumford paper mill by mid-February because of tough economic conditions.
Employees at the Rumford mill — there are about 830 — received the news Tuesday morning, according to Anthony Lyons, a mill spokesman.
He said the exact timing of the shutdown and the number of employees affected have not been determined.
“We are running the machine through mid-February,” Lyons told the Bangor Daily News. “We’re doing that so we can satisfy current customer orders and so we can transition the [paper] from that machine on to other Rumford machines and throughout the NewPage system.”
The company is stopping production on its No. 12 paper machine, which currently produces roughly 300 tons per day of coated paper used for magazines and catalogs. It is both the oldest — built in 1948 — and smallest of the mill’s three paper machines, Lyons said. The mill’s total annual production is approximately 550,000 tons of coated paper.
While Lyons wouldn’t estimate how many employees will be impacted, Ron Hemingway, president of the Local 900 United Steelworkers union, told the Sun Journal that “around 120 people” may be affected by the shutdown of the No. 12 paper machine.
“There are about 25 workers who work on the No. 12 paper machine, which is a small number compared to how many people will likely be laid off,” Hemingway said. “There are people all over the place in the mill who will be affected, whether it’s the rewinder room, the maintenance area or the electrical and instrument room. The whole mill is going to take a hit.”
The company’s contract with the union stipulates that layoffs are based on seniority, which means the most junior employees will be the first to be let go, Lyons told the BDN.
“Last in, first out,” he said.
“We sincerely regret having to make this announcement because of the impact to our employees,” Mark Lukacs, senior vice president of operations for Miamisburg, Ohio-based NewPage, said in a statement. “We will be working with our Rumford management team to minimize the effects to our employees.”
The coated paper market is under pressure from falling demand and increasing imports from paper mills in western Europe, according to the company.
The former is not a new trend, according to Lyons.
“Magazine sales are dependent on advertising and there has been a decline in ad pages generally throughout the industry that has led to a decrease on the coated paper side,” Lyons said.
The latter pressure — increased imports from Europe — is a variable pressure, which goes up and down. Currently, production in western Europe is up 8 percent year-over-year, Lyons said.
“We continue to operate in a weak commercial environment and needed to take action,” George Martin, NewPage’s president and CEO, said in a statement.
NewPage filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in September 2012, emerging three months later, in December 2012.