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New owners cut 150 jobs at paper mill

By Julia Merchant • Staff Writer

A round of layoffs struck Evergreen Packaging (formerly Blue Ridge Paper) last week when officials cut the positions of 28 salaried employees outright and decided to eliminate 122 hourly positions through attrition.

The hourly position cuts will be distributed between the Waynesville plant, where 45 jobs will be lost, and the Canton plant, which will lose 77 positions.

The hourly position layoffs came as a surprise to Howard Taylor, president of the Evergreen workers’ union.

“Usually the company communicates with us before it gets out. This just caught me by a complete surprise,” Taylor said.

Taylor has said there have been “thousands of rumors” circulating about layoffs since the company was purchased by Evergreen Packaging Corporation in July, but he didn’t expect them to materialize into anything.

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“I thought we were short (staffed),” Taylor said. “Back in September we were supposed to have hired about 20 people, then we went from hiring people to doing away with 122 jobs. I hope I can get some more information because I don’t have any information right now.”

The new owners of the company are being especially mum about the layoffs. Company representatives failed to return repeated phone calls from both Taylor and media sources. Attempts to contact Evergreen officials at their headquarters in Memphis, Tenn., for other stories have also been fruitless.

Taylor said he has no indication as to why the company has decided to cut its workforce.

“I don’t know why they’re reducing the number of jobs. The only thing they’ve communicated is the numbers.

“They’ve not shared any information with me. I’ve had telephone calls and I won’t hear nothing back,” Taylor said.

Stan Johnson, the district director for the Southeast Steelworkers Union who helped negotiate the buyout contract for workers, said he was aware that the layoffs had occurred but didn’t know enough about what precipitated them to comment.

Reducing hourly positions through attrition is technically allowed in the company’s contract with the workers’ union. However, it’s also a way to cut employee numbers quickly, since many Blue Ridge workers are nearing retirement age. Those hourly jobs will no longer be available for new employees to take on, and a source of employment in the community is being taken away.

“If you go back to the 1950s, there were 3,000 people who worked here. You steadily see it shrinking,” said Taylor of the Blue Ridge workforce.

Taylor, though, is gearing up for talks with company officials and the Steelworkers Union to make sure jobs are preserved in the future.

“We are going to fight for every job and we will assure our membership that (Evergreen) will go by the contract,” said Taylor.

A meeting of the Steelworkers and the local union will take place Oct. 9. Taylor and union representatives will meet with Evergreen officials Oct. 17.

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