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Register-Guard: New Mill Could Take Up To 2 Years

The Register Guard | July 21, 2014 8 p.m. | Updated: July 22, 2014 1:19 p.m.

Contributed By:

Sherri Buri McDonald

The 250 Springfield Plywood and Veneer workers displaced by last Thursday’s fire should start making a plan for the next two years, company officials told them at a meeting Monday afternoon.

That’s how long Swanson Group, the mill’s Glendale-based owner, estimates it could take to rebuild the Springfield mill, Chief Operating Officer Chuck Wert said.

And the company still doesn’t know yet whether it will rebuild, he said.

“At this point in time we haven’t nailed down the exact cause of the fire,” Wert said. “We’re still investigating, as is our insurance adjustor. We do desire to rebuild the mill, so we have to evaluate our (insurance) policy coverage. At the end of the day, some of this will be dictated by the policy limits and what that will allow us to do. Anything we do will take at least two years.”

Company officials offered workers several options as they move past the shock of watching their workplace burn to the ground and start to figure out their next steps.

Swanson is identifying positions at its mills in Glendale and Roseburg currently staffed by temporary workers that could be turned into regular positions for the displaced Springfield workers, Wert said. Between those openings and “mini expansions” at those mills, “we think we can come up with 100 positions,” he said.

Roseburg is about 80 miles south of Eugene-Springfield on Interstate 5, and Glendale is 140 miles south. Both towns are in Douglas County.

Workers who aren’t able to relocate might be able to find work at other local wood products companies. Murphy Co., Seneca Sawmill, Timber Products Co. and Roseburg Forest Products have contacted Swanson Group about openings, Wert said.

Numerous wood products companies and temporary employment firms contacted the Worksource Lane office on Friday morning, “so there’s definitely a demand for this workforce,” said Kristina Payne, executive director of Lane Workforce Partnership.

The partnership also is providing Springfield mill workers with surveys, which partnership officials hope to evaluate by the end of the week to gauge workers’ interest in education and retraining, she said.

“There are opportunities to bring additional funds in if the workers want to pursue training — to utilize those funds to go back to school, (but) we don’t ask for funding that maybe there isn’t an interest for,” Payne said.

The partnership could apply for federal Workforce Investment Act funds for dislocated workers, or if there is strong demand, it could request National Emergency Grant funds.

After the closures of computer-chip maker Hynix in late 2008 and of RV maker Monaco in early 2009, “we brought in National Emergency Grant funds” because of strong interest in retraining and because it was the height of the recession, Payne said.

“There is a bit of a difference here,” she said Monday.

“There’s a huge opportunity for them to go back to work — that’s what the demand appears to be as of Friday and (Monday) morning.”

After an initial “waiting week,” most of the Springfield mill workers should be eligible for state unemployment insurance, Payne said.

The Worksource Lane office at 2510 Oakmont Way, off Coburg Road, is the workers’ clearinghouse for information about filing for unemployment and about job openings, she said, adding that many of the mill workers have already stopped in.

To discuss job openings at Swanson’s Douglas County mills, as well as other issues, such as extending health insurance coverage through COBRA, Springfield mill employees may schedule meetings with human resources officials in the next week-and-a-half, Wert said.

Employees may also discuss the loss of personal items in the fire, such as purses, wallets, cellphones, tools and vehicles, and figure out their options for filing against personal insurance policies and “what we can do as a company to help cover any incremental losses,” Wert said.

“We know of people who have lost thousands of dollars in tools (and) five vehicles were total losses,” he said.

“Everybody’s hurting and everybody’s wondering what they’re going to do,” Wert said. “We’re just trying to get options out there in front of everybody.”

Other local companies, including financial institutions, also said they are offering assistance to the millworkers.

Northwest Community Credit Union, which was started by wood products workers at Weyerhaeuser Co. in 1949, has been in touch with Swanson Group to talk about a plan for assisting the Springfield mill workers, NWCU CEO John Iglesias said.

“We felt strongly about reaching out because so much of our credit union membership base is made up of wood products employees or their families,” Iglesias said.

Potential assistance includes help in making payment planning decisions, possible emergency or short-term loans “with consideration for employment and credit history,” and assistance contacting merchants or other creditors about restructuring mill employees’ repayments, he said.

NWCU also has set up an account to receive donations for people who lost jobs due to the fire. Community members who want to contribute can donate at any of credit union’s branches to the Springfield Plywood and Veneer, Swanson Group LLC account. The credit union will work with Swanson to see how donations can best be used, Iglesias said.

Follow Sherri on Twitter @sburimcdonald . Email sherri@registerguard.com .

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