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Faced with less demand, Sappi temporarily laying off employees

Sappi said the layoffs will be on a "rotational basis" and last one to two weeks.

FILE: Sappi
The large concrete tank holds unbleached pulp, with the recovery boiler in the background. The unbleached pulp is washed, screened and bleached. The buildings are all part of processing at Sappi North America's Cloquet Mill. (2020 file/News Tribune)

Employees at Sappi's Cloquet paper mill are being temporarily laid off in rotations as demand for the mill's products wane amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Due to market conditions, Sappi North America is taking periodic market curtailment on some of its operations at Westbrook, Somerset (Maine) and Cloquet to balance our product supply with demand," Sappi North America said in an emailed statement to the News Tribune on Monday. "As part of this process, employees associated with the curtailed machines are being temporarily laid off consistent with the process defined in their collective bargaining agreements."

Sappi said the layoffs will be on a "rotational basis" and last one to two weeks. During that time, employees can receive unemployment insurance and an extra $600 per week from the federal CARE Act.

A drop in demand from the COVID-19 pandemic also caused the UPM Blandin paper mill in Grand Rapids to temporarily shut down in April .

The latest temporary layoffs at Sappi follow a one-week layoff in April ahead of a planned maintenance outage . At the time, workers were expected to return to work and spend about three weeks cleaning and maintaining the plant's pulp mill. The annual outage usually lasts about a week and half, but the company took advantage of the soft market to do additional maintenance.

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A phone number listed for Steelworkers Local 11-63, which represents many Sappi employees, was disconnected and the union did not immediately respond to a Facebook message seeking comment.

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