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Stimson cuts workforce at finger-jointer

| January 30, 2007 11:00 PM

By GWEN ALBERS Western News Reporter

Eighteen of the 31 employees at Libby's finger-joint plant were laid off last week.

The layoffs leave the Inland Northwest-Stimson mill in Kootenai Industrial Business Park with 13 employees working one shift.

Jeff Webber, Stimson's vice president of manufacturing in Portland, Ore., said production at the plant on Highway 2 South was curtailed because it manufactures lumber for home construction. New housing starts have dropped 25 percent since the first of the year.

"New house construction has just come to a grinding halt," Webber said.

Ed Roberts, human resource manager for Stimson in Coeur D'Alene, Idaho, called the layoffs "indefinite."

"At this point, when something like this is market driven, we look for better times to get the crew back on," Roberts said. "We're not severing the crew, just reducing the ones we have right now."

"They will be recalled as soon as jobs are available and once we get enough orders to operate full speed," he continued. "We've been operating sporadically for the last three to four months."

Finger-jointer employees had been working four, 10-hour days a week. However, since November 2006, they had worked one to two days a week or 50 percent to 25 percent less.

Employees qualify for unemployment compensation pay.

Libby plant manager Charlie Croucher informed employees about the layoffs.

"It's tough, especially in a place like Libby where everyone knows everyone and there's other problems," Roberts said.

Stimson is one of many lumber companies struggling to break even. Many blame the low lumber prices on a deluge of discounted imports from Canada, which has been ramping up production in an attempt to rid itself of millions of acres of beetle-killed forests.

That's why the workers recently laid off from Stimson qualify for federal Trade Adjustment Assistance, which is designed to help workers affected by imports get back on their feet by extending unemployment benefits and job retraining from six months to two years.