By David Bates • Staff Writer • 

New owner shutting down Newberg mill

News-Register file photo##SP Newsprint, pictured here in 2008, will close in November. The paper mill, recently purchased by WestRock Co., will lay off 200 workers.
News-Register file photo##SP Newsprint, pictured here in 2008, will close in November. The paper mill, recently purchased by WestRock Co., will lay off 200 workers.

NEWBERG — Almost two weeks to the day after corrugated paper giant WestRock Co. announced completion of its SP Newsprint purchase, the company told workers it would be idling the Newberg paper mill indefinitely, effective Nov. 15.

More than 200 employees, most of them members of the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers, Local 60, have been asked to begin preparing the plant for the shutdown.

The Newberg mill, which began as a lumber operation in the 1800s, was included in a $288.5 million sale announced earlier this year. The sale also included a paper mill in Dublin, Georgia.

When the buyout was announced last summer, the company suggested that operations in Newberg, where the mill is a major employer, would continue.

“The Dublin and Newberg mills will balance the fiber mix of our mill system, and the addition of kraft and bag paper will diversify our product offering,” Steve Voorhees, chief executive officer at WestRock, said at the time.

“We expect to apply our operating capabilities to improve the cost structure of both mills. As a result, our mill system will be better positioned to serve the increasing demand for lighter weight containerboard and kraft paper.”

The closure was announced to employees Thursday and made public Friday by the Newberg Graphic.

A call to the mill was not returned, and WestRock’s website makes no mention of the closure. But the inquiry triggered this response from WestRock Monday morning:

“WestRock has, indeed, made the difficult decision to idle its mill in Newberg, effective Nov. 15,” spokesman Tucker McNeil said in a press release. “Demand for newsprint continues to decline, and the current levels of demand for other products made at the mill are not strong enough to support continuing the operation.”

McNeil said WestRock plans to “maintain and manage” the mill, in case it determines “there is an opportunity to restart operations in the future.” 

Local 60 representative Bill Martello, who recently observed his 40-year-mark in the industry, said workers didn’t see the shutdown coming. He said they were stunned when a delegation from management and corporate appeared at a Thursday union meeting called for an unrelated purpose.

Martello said he took some solace from the fact the company apparently plans to keep the plant prepared to restart, should market conditions improve. Idling has happened before, and some workers there are already familiar with what follows when a round of layoffs is announced.

“Some will go to school, probably try to learn other jobs,” he said. “A lot of times in the past, when some go through that process, when the mill gets going again, they come back.”

WestRock is the product of a merger of two corrugated paper giants, MeadWesvaco of Richmond, Virginia, and Rock-Tenn of Norcross, Georgia. The $16 billion company is the nation’s second-largest packaging manufacturer. 

Web Design & Web Development by LVSYS