ESCANABA, Mich. (WZMQ) – Nearly 300 Billerud paper mill employees in Escanaba are out of work for the next two weeks while the mill undergoes maintenance.
According to a statement from Billerud, a “planned annual maintenance outage” is taking place the first week of October. The mill is being idled during this time due to “customer inventory stocking” and “low demand for paper.”
According to Gerald Kell, president of USW Local 21, this year’s outage is being done a bit differently than in years past.
“This year, due to market conditions, they’re going to curb productions on all three machines,” Kell said. “Typically they would run at a diminished capacity, but they would operate at some level. This year, they are not.”
Billerud is also taking the following week to “balance…production with customer needs.” Approximately 280 of the Escanaba mill’s roughly 830 employees have been laid off for the two-week period.
Kell says while union members who have been laid off are eligible to receive unemployment benefits during that time, there is a one-week waiting period.
“Michigan’s unemployment benefits are antiquated and behind many states so it’s not much and they don’t get paid for that week, but they do qualify for the benefits,” he said.
Billerd says it is discussing ways to “minimize the impact to the fullest extent possible” with its unions and workers.