Alyssa Sutton

Boise Cascade Company gave a 60-day notice on Wednesday that it would begin the curtailment of its lumber operation in Elgin.

The phased shutdown will include the sawmill, planer and shipping department, while the powerhouse and log utilization center will remain operational.

“Boise Cascade has operated the Elgin lumber mill since 1960. This portion of the Elgin complex is not cost competitive in the marketplace given its age, size and technology,” Wood Products Regional Manager John White said in a press release. “Even with significant new capital investments, it is not clear the lumber mill can be positioned to be cost competitive. We have announced an indefinite curtailment as we assess the future of the Elgin lumber operation.”

Boise Cascade media contact Lisa Chapman said that roughly 500 individuals are employed by Boise Cascade in Elgin, La Grande, Island City and Pilot Rock. In Elgin, 90 employees will be impacted by the curtailment.

“The hourly worker and management staff have been notified,” said Steve Lyon, Northeast Oregon human resources manager in the press release. “We understand the effect of this announcement on our employees and their families, and we are providing information and resources to help them as best we can.”

Some employees at the Elgin stud mill may be offered positions at neighboring plants, Chapman said.

“We’re working with employees that are affected by this to see if we can place them (at other facilities),” Chapman said, adding that 30 employees will still be working at the Elgin plant.

“There is a union in place, so the next few weeks the union will be deciding where people can go,” she said.

She explained that there are rules the union has set about seniority and as a result it may take a while for some employees to be placed at other plants.

“There’s a notice we have to turn into the union if we’re doing a long-term layoff, and there’s a threshold number of people (we are laying off) to report. We’re below that number, but we notified (the union) anyway,” Chapman said.

According to the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act –– a U.S. labor law that protects employees, their families and communities — most employers with 100 or more employees are required to provide 60-calendar-day advance notification of plant closings and mass layoffs.

The advance notice is intended to give workers transition time to adjust to the prospective loss of employment, to obtain other employment and, if necessary, enter skill training or retraining programs that will allow them to successfully compete in the job market.

Todd Gorham, executive secretary-treasurer of Carpenters Industrial Council, who will be representing the union that the Elgin Boise Cascade workers belong to, said that he doesn’t think many employees will be placed at other plants.

“(Boise Cascade) said in their letter (to me) that they would try to accommodate people by placing them in other plants, but the number of folks that (will be) given that opportunity would be low,” Gorham said. “I don’t know how the staffing is at those facilities, but I wouldn’t expect (to place) a large number of people.”

He said that the union is in the early stages of negotiating, and he’s currently analyzing the full scope of the situation.

“We’re working on what we can do (for the displaced employees),” Gorham said. “It’s a tough situation. It’s a life-changing event.”

Gorham will be available to answer questions at a meeting to be held Monday for the members of the Elgin union.

According to the Boise Cascade press release, a phased shutdown approach will be deployed, starting first with the sawmill, followed by the planer and concluding with the shipping department once existing inventory has been exhausted. The company anticipates this happening by mid-July.

“The mill is a big contributor (to the city),” Elgin Administrator and City Recorder Brock Eckstein said, adding that the most current City of Elgin survey showed that 19 percent of the workforce in Elgin are in the forestry industry.

“Shutting down over half of the mill is going to have a huge impact on people’s jobs,” he said.

Eckstein noted that while the city budget will not be affected by the closure, the lives of Elgin residents certainly will be. He said the city is already working to assist those who may soon be jobless.

“Mayor (Allan Duffy) is working with a couple different outside organizations that could provide new job training and technical training,” Eckstein said.

Boise Cascade employees who have concerns or are looking for assistance are asked to call Elgin City Hall at 541-437-2253.