Kimberly-Clark Corp. announced Thursday it has failed to sell its paper mill in Everett and will be shutting it down, throwing about 750 employees out of work soon.
Nearly 90 percent of the workers will lose their jobs by New Year’s Day, and only a skeleton crew will operate the pulp and tissues plants until they are closed in the first three months of 2012. The waterfront site will be razed and sold for development, said Bob Brand, a Kimberly-Clark spokesman.
“We’ve been trying to sell the plant for much of a year, and this is not an outcome we had hoped for,” Brand told the Everett Herald.
Brand told the newspaper that negotiations to sell the plants to Atlas Holdings Inc. broke down over a problem with environmental issues related to the area’s East Waterway.
Josh Estes, president of Local 183 of the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers, said he had spoken to Mayor Ray Stephanson, who told Estes he was going to work with Gov. Christine Gregoire’s office and Washington state legislators in the hope that they can get the two firms back into negotiations.
The news came as a shock to employees because Atlas Holdings was handing out applications and expected to take over the plants sometime early in 2012.
“So most of the people came to the mill assumed this was going to be a meeting announcing the final for the sale,” Estes said. “Instead they heard it was a closure and their world was turned upside down.”
A mill worker, Dean Zevenbergen, said working at Kimberly-Clark has been a way of life for his entire family. “My dad worked here 35 years,” he said. “My older brother worked here 25 years, retired three years ago. I have a brother who’s been here 37 years.”
When he got to work Thursday, Zevenbergen found out he was losing his job.
“You get laid off anytime, it’s huge. But you get laid off three weeks before Christmas and the emotional rollercoaster, it’s devastating to people.”
Fellow worker Tony Lewis said, “To get this late in the sale and then have an environmental reason for shutting it down, it’s hard to believe they didn’t address this earlier in the talks. I find that would warrant some investigation."
Kim McDuffee owns Meyer Café, a popular lunch spot just down the street from the mill. She said the closure will cost her, too.
“We do a lot of box lunches orders that are 15-20 box lunches at a time. It’s a huge amount of money and it’s a scary thought, how do you stay in business?” asked McDuffee.
Mill workers said they were offered a severance package and unemployment benefits, but worry about what the future holds.
“This is a very high-paying job and wherever I start again will be at the bottom. I’m 55 years old,” Lewis said.About 650 of the plant’s 750 workers will be laid off by the end of the month. The remainder will be out of a job in March, when the plant shuts down completely.
“This is disappointing news,” Stephanson said. “Our hope is that both parties will reconsider and try to resurrect negotiations for a purchase-and-sale agreement before the end of the year. The city of Everett stands ready to do whatever we can to bring both companies back together.”
The mill was built on Everett’s waterfront in 1931 as Puget Sound Pulp and Timber Co. It became Soundview Pulp Co. in 1935 and was purchased by Scott Paper in 1951. Scott merged with Kimberly-Clark in 1985.