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Watertown Daily Times | Paperboard company temporarily closes for maintenance; union leaders worries about future

WEST CARTHAGE — Carthage Specialty Paperboard claims that rumors about it closing its doors are unfounded, but a union leader representing several company employees is skeptical of the unprecedented situation.

“Our fear is everything is not okay, and I hope and pray I’m wrong,” said James “Jim” H. Ridgeway, international union representative for United Steelworkers, which represents 60 of the companies union employees.

Carthage Specialty Paperboard’s CEO Patrick J. Purdy released a statement Wednesday saying the company planned a temporary five-to-seven-day closure to conduct maintenance on its paper machine and install upgraded equipment to increase production, adding that any rumors about the company closing its plant indefinitely were “completely false and without merit.”

“Once the installation and maintenance procedures are completed, the machine will be placed back online and to fulfill our existing order backlog,” Mr. Purdy said in his statement.

When asked whether the number of employees working at the plant would change, Donald H. Schnackel, vice president of finance, said “everything is in the (statement).”

“It’s a normal course of business,” he said.

But that’s not how the union sees it.

The way Carthage Specialty Paperboard handled its maintenance closure was unusual and violated protocol with United Steelworkers, said Mr. Ridgeway, who represents 20 north country companies including Alcoa.

He said the company should have notified the union about its temporary closure instead of having him hear second-hand information about the company laying off employees or having issues with its raw material supply and not knowing whether the maintenance employees would be working during the shutdown. Instead, he found out about it from Al Potter, United Steelworkers local union president.

The union will find out if the company releases a schedule for its maintenance workers Thursday afternoon, he said.

“There’s an absolute lack of trust with the way they operate,” he said. “They should give us the straight scoop.”

Maintenance shutdowns are typically planned about two months in advance to give employees time to prepare and potentially schedule vacations, Mr. Ridgeway said.

“It normally doesn’t happen in like a three-day period,” he said. “It’s certainly not what I would call a traditional maintenance shutdown.”

Carthage Specialty Paperboard entered negotiations with United Steelworkers two weeks ago, Mr. Ridgeway said.

Mr. Schnackel said that the company’s current three-year contract will expire this summer.

Prior to negotiations, Mr. Ridgeway said, he had not heard from the company despite sending three to four letters last year.

“They literally didn’t answer my letters,” he said. “That’s not the way I’m used to doing business.”

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