Billerud begins idle, temporary layoffs

The two-week layoff period at Billerud's Escanaba mill is in part due to a planned one-week annual maintenance outage.
Published: Oct. 2, 2023 at 7:22 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 3, 2023 at 10:33 AM EDT
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WELLS TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WLUC) - Billerud’s Escanaba mill has temporarily laid off 280 of its roughly 830 workers.

USW Local 21′s President Gerald Kell said the two-week layoff presents a hardship for those impacted by the layoffs.

“To be clear, the State of Michigan does have a one-week waiting period on unemployment claims,” he said. “So, no one actually will be paid their unemployment benefits for the first week.”

This layoff period is in part due to a planned one-week annual maintenance outage; however, the company said several additional items caused the layoffs and the longer plant downtime.

“Due to customer inventory destocking and low demand for paper, Billerud is opting to idle the mill’s paper machines during this outage,” said Shawn Hall, director of communications. “Further, the company intends to take an additional week of market-related downtime following the maintenance to balance our production with customer needs.”

While Billerud performs this maintenance every year, Kell said this is the first year the company has both laid off workers and stopped all production.

“[A] typical outage, even though they take down the kraft mill and boiler house every year, it doesn’t always curb production completely,” Kell said. “This year, they’re shutting down all three paper machines in their entirety.”

Kell said the company filled a mass claim with unemployment, so the workers only have to file their claims, and the claims are approved. He added the layoff is only temporary, and the union is excited about the future.

“A layoff is never what anybody wants. It’s certainly an inconvenience and it makes a lot of work for just getting it set up,” Kell said. “But we are still on the precipice of a major rebuild that’s going to secure this mill’s future for the next 50 years plus. So, we’re still excited for that prospect, and that project is still ongoing.”

Kell said the bridge project, which is stage one of the major transformation project, is nearing completion.