What will happen to employees at WestRock Paper Mill when it closes?
With the impending closure of the WestRock Paper Mill in Tacoma, about 400 workers could be displaced.
“It’s really significant,” said Chelsea Mason-Placek, who is the workforce development director for the Washington State Labor Council. “This is a much larger layoff than we typically see.”
The labor council is engaged as part of Rapid Response, a federal program that is implemented locally to help workers impacted by layoffs or business closures. While Mason-Placek said a closure impacting this many workers is rare, the labor council has seen them before — and the industries impacted have similarities.
“A lot of other large closures like this, unfortunately, oftentimes are in the forest products industry or manufacturing,” Mason-Placek said.
The Tacoma mill is the second facility WestRock is closing this year.
From now until the mill closes in September, there are a lot of personal decisions to be made by affected employees, Mason-Placek said. Some may retire, others might be relocated to a new WestRock facility in Longview.
The labor council is working with labor unions that represent WestRock employees to determine employee needs ahead of the closure. Through Rapid Response, the labor council is also working with organizations to connect employees to training and education.
WorkForce Central is an organization that carries out the strategic vision for workforce development in Pierce County under the purview of elected officials and the Pierce County Workforce Development Council. The organization has been assisting in the response to the mill’s closure.
Katie Condit, CEO for WorkForce Central, said there are local, comparable jobs available to impacted employees.
“We anticipate that 70 to 80% will transition into either short term, rescaling into a good wage job, and/or directly into a good job,” Condit said.
According to Chmura’s JobsEQ, a subscription-based econometrics tool, there are 678 open postings in Pierce County that match occupations at the mill. That figure was provided by WorkForce Central.
WorkForce Central has facilitated two events at the mill for workers, where they have shared available job information, workforce training and education opportunities. So far, they have engaged with about one-third of the mill employees, Condit said.
The mill closes at the end of September.