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Clearwater Paper Plans to Downsize at Lewiston, Idaho Facility

Lewiston, Idaho, USA 11 January 2018 -- (From news reports) -- Clearwater Paper expects to permanently eliminate as many as 100 union jobs this spring from its staff of 1,400 in Lewiston.

Some of the cuts - between 80 and 100 positions - will be through attrition or by not filling open slots, said Clearwater Paper spokeswoman Shannon Myers.

The downsizing is tentatively scheduled to start in May and will involve the 500-member staff of the tissue division, Myers said.

"We're restructuring the Lewiston tissue operation to align with current market conditions," Myers said. "We've been careful to gather as much information as possible before making a decision like this that affects employment."

Attempts by the Tribune to contact union leadership were not successful. A memorandum posted on the website of United Steelworkers Local 608 in Lewiston indicates the union learned of the downsizing early this week.

Union leaders met with the company to negotiate a new contract and were notified about the reductions, which are occurring because of "lower budgeted production levels at (tissue) converting next year and beyond," according to the memorandum.

Converting is the part of the plant where Clearwater Paper takes giant rolls of tissue and cuts them into individual paper napkins, sheets of facial tissue and rolls of toilet paper or paper towels.

"We understand the magnitude of this announcement and the impact it has on the affected members," the memorandum states. "We are meeting with the company (Wednesday and today) to start working through the details. We will communicate updates as we get them."

Clearwater Paper is seeking ways to tighten its belt as it faces numerous challenges. Its net earnings totaled $16.4 million in the first nine months of 2017, compared with $40.2 million for the same time the year before.

And that was before its largest customer - identified by a stock market analyst as the national grocery store chain Kroger - began using a mix of suppliers instead of buying all of its store-brand paper products from Clearwater Paper.

Consumers are increasingly shopping online instead of at brick-and-mortar stores, and Clearwater Paper's products are competing against those manufactured by new factories that have come online, Myers said.

One factor that didn't play a role in the choices Clearwater Paper is making in Lewiston is its recent $160 million update, Myers said.

The upgrade reduced the costs of all of Lewiston's operations and didn't result in instances in which machines are doing jobs previously performed by people, Myers said.

The centerpiece is a new pulp digester featuring the latest technology in the industry, replacing 12 batch digesters that had been installed at various times.

Lewiston is the only location Clearwater Paper has plans to downsize now, but the company hasn't ruled out other cost-saving measures in the future.

"We are always looking for opportunities to ensure the company is more competitive," Myers said.

Clearwater Paper previously announced it had hired consultant A.T. Kearney to examine administrative expenses, such as the costs of accounting, marketing and facilities. Spending for that category was $93.7 million for the first nine months of 2017, according to the company's third-quarter earnings report.


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