UPM Blandin will shut one of two remaining paper-production lines in Grand Rapids, Minn., as part of a larger corporate downsizing that includes layoffs at two plants in Germany.
In Minnesota, Blandin will permanently shut its older “Machine 5” in Grand Rapids by the end of the first quarter in 2018, affecting about 150 workers, company officials said Tuesday. Layoffs are expected to begin immediately.
The “Machine 6” production line that is inside the same mill is expected to keep running and retain its staff of roughly 140 hourly workers, union officials said.
Word of the layoffs came early Tuesday morning.
“This hurts,” said Rod Alstead, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 346, which represents about 293 works at UPM. “It’s devastating. This is a small community, and these are great jobs with benefits.”
Over the years, the paper business has declined with the onset of computers and a digital age that has reduced demand for paper products, including the lightweight and coated paper that is used to make magazine stock in Minnesota. The company had about 800 employees in Minnesota in 1997, when it was bought by Helsinki, Finland-based UPM-Kymmene.
But in 2003, it shut down two of its four production lines. Other downsizings have since taken their toll, leaving a Minnesota workforce of around 300.
“At no time is it easy to lose 150 positions in one fell swoop,” said Grand Rapids Mayor Dale Adams. “Twenty years ago, Blandin used to have nearly 1,000 workers here, when it was running full steam.”
The region is also still hurting from a downturn in the iron ore industry. Even though the industry is now on the upswing again and there’s a new owner for Magnetation, the facility isn’t back to full capacity, he said. He’s hoping that the bankrupt Essar plant in Nashwauk, Minn., also will reopen and bring jobs to his region.
So when the call came Tuesday morning about the jobs cut, Adams felt the blow.
“This will certainly impact how Grand Rapids can grow,” he said.
In a statement, UPM Paper ENA (Europe and North America) Executive Vice President Winfried Schaur said the downsizings in America and Europe could not be helped and were “in light of the global market situation for graphic papers and [the need] to sustain [our] competitiveness and leading position in the market. … During the last years, the demand for graphic papers has been declining and the decline is expected to continue.”