Crown Pacific To Close Sawmill Decision To Shut Montana Mill Blamed On Poor Economic Conditions

Portland-based Crown Pacific Ltd. said Thursday that it will shut down its Thompson Falls, Mont., sawmill in 60 days.

The mill’s 154 workers had been striking for three weeks. The mill has been idle throughout the strike, as the company’s union contract prohibits hiring of replacement workers.

The workers had been striking over their labor contract since April 4. At issue were benefits for the sawmill workers, said Fletcher Chamberlin, spokesman for Crown Pacific.

Thursday afternoon, workers offered to stop picketing the mill immediately and go back to work. Jim Cullen, president of the International Woodworkers of America Local 2719 in Thompson Falls, sent a letter back to Crown officials at 3 p.m. Thursday. No reply had been heard late Thursday.

“We’ve seen the mill right next to us in Superior close, so this comes as no surprise to us,” Cullen said. Crown closed its Superior, Mont., mill last year. Under federal law, Crown cannot officially close the mill for 60 days, but does not have to employ workers at the plant during that period, Cullen said.

The Thompson Falls mill has been unprofitable for Crown Pacific since the timber company bought it from W-I Forest Products L.P. in September 1993. The mill required extensive investment in newer machinery to become competitive in the current, low-priced lumber market, said P.A. Leineweber, Crown vice president.

“We regret that the present situation has given us no other choice,” Leineweber said. “We are attempting to sell or lease the facility to another operator …”

Chamberlin in Portland said Crown Pacific could reconsider its offer if union officials compromise on a labor agreement. But no settlement seems likely at this time, he said.

Also Thursday, Crown Pacific announced that 40 sawmill workers laid off from its Bonners Ferry sawmill last week will be recalled on Monday. Improved market conditions allowed the mill to recall the workers, Chamberlin said.

Crown Pacific had made the layoffs because of sagging lumber prices, which some timber industry leaders blame on subsidized imports from Canadian lumber mills.

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