Monday, February 12, 2001

Job cuts are major blow to Hamilton, workers

200 paper mill employees now face job hunt

By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — Dave Shepard's family has together logged 120 years working at the International Paper mill. That came to an end Sunday when Mr. Shepard lost his job.

        The 54-year-old Hamilton man was told in a half-hour session at the Hamiltonian Hotel that he would not be rehired by Smart Papers LLC, the 107-year-old mill's second new owner in less than a year.

[photo] About 200 employees at the North B Street mill in Hamilton owned by Smart Papers LLC lost their jobs over the weekend.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
| ZOOM |
        “I kind of expected it,” he said.

        “I just figured my age caught up with me.”

        He's among an estimated 200 people — union and salaried employees — who lost their jobs over the weekend in the company's downsizing.

        An official from Local 1967 of the Paper, Allied- Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers, which represents most mill employees, said at least half were fired because they failed drug tests.

        Annetta Johnson, spokeswoman for Smart Papers, declined to comment Sunday. She said the company would issue a statement today.

        News of the job losses strikes another blow to the city of Hamilton, still stinging from Ohio Casualty's relocation of 800 jobs since 1999.

        International Paper Co. bought the former Champion International Corp. in June, then last fall announced it would close the Knightsbridge complex and eliminate 350 jobs. The North B Street mill was to stay open.

        Then Smart Paper bought the mill in January.

        Mr. Shepard worked for the mill 35 years, 20 of them as a shift supervisor. He said he was told Sunday the company didn't need him anymore.

        At least, he said, he was pleased with the severance package offered.

        His father, aunts and uncles and grandmother had all worked at the plant.

        It was an emotional moment as he stood outside the hotel where employees had been summoned to a series of tense meetings Saturday and Sunday to learn their fate.

        He said he was “sad, but happy.

        “You know, my dad always wanted to retire at 55. Now, I'm going to do it. I hope to spend the rest of my time with my family.”

        All 800 mill employees received a termination letter Jan. 8 and were asked to reapply for their jobs. Employees went through applications, interviews and drug tests.

        Cindy Saylor, 48, of Middletown was not rehired as a secretary and was offered a severance package.

        While she was disappointed, she had anticipated the outcome. She had only worked there a year.

        “There was no good way to do this,” she said of the downsizing. “It was either International Paper shut it down, or a new company come in and try to make the best of it because it was losing so much money.”

        Ms. Saylor plans to go back to school and look for other employment. She worries about the long-time employees.

        “This is a very devastating thing for these people,” she said. “A lot of people have never made a resume. They went there right out of high school. This was their home. What are these men going to do?”

        Employees with short tenure and those with decades of experience lost their jobs. Some salaried employees were offered hourly jobs. Most rehired employees had to take pay cuts from $5 to $8 an hour, plus cutbacks in vacation and other benefits.

        Larry McCreary, chief union steward for Local 1967, learned Saturday that he was unemployed.

        If more than half the union workers are rehired, the company is legally required to negotiate with the union. The union will meet today to discuss the situation.

        Mr. McCreary, 48, of Yellow Springs, Ohio, worked for the mill 27 years and was making $19.07 an hour as a re-reeler. He was offered a $30,000 severance package, but doesn't think that was adequate.

        “I think they got rid of me because I speak up,” he said. “I don't do drugs. I haven't missed a day in about 22 years. I do my job.”

        The Cincinnati Enquirer/ STEVEN M. HERPPICH


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