Kimberly-Clark workers to be eligible for federal aid

Dec 20, 2011

Everett Herald

By Mike Benbow

December 20, 2011

Workers at Everett's Kimberly-Clark Corp. will be eligible for special help in job training, job searches, health insurance and unemployment pay, Rep. Rick Larsen said today.

"This vital assistance could not have come at a better time for the workers at Kimberly-Clark who are in a time of great uncertainty," Larsen said. "These benefits ... will be critical for the workers as they adjust and find new work."

He said the workers deserved better than a shutdown.

Some 700 people will lose their jobs with the closure of the pulp mill and the tissue plant after the effort to sell them to Atlas Holdings failed.

Kimberly-Clark officials said many workers will lose their job by the end of the year. The plants will run with skeleton crews and be closed by March.

Because Kimberly-Clark decided to get out of the pulp business and buy it overseas, the workers are eligible for trade adjustment assistance, Larsen, D-Wash., said this morning.

Everett was the corporation's last pulp mill operating in the United States.

The program aids workers whose jobs have essentially been shifted outside the U.S.

Frank Prochaska, a local representative of the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers, hailed the announcement in a prepared statement.

"While this won't replace good paying jobs in Everett, these benefits will help all the workers transition to other meaningful work and will help our community better weather the impact of this loss to our local economy."

The trade adjustment assistance includes:

Re-employment services. including job counseling, help with resume writing and job referrals.

Job search allowances. Workers can have expenses covered for job searches outside the area.

Relocation allowances. They can be reimbursed for moving expenses to a new job outside the area.

Training. They can get classroom training for new skills or remedial education.

Income support. In addition to unemployment checks, they can receive trade readjustment allowances.

Health coverage. They can receive tax credits for 65 percent of their health insurance premiums.

Kimberly-Clark had been negotiating exclusively with Atlas for the sale and union members had agreed on a new contract with a number of reductions in pay and work rules.

But the talks broke down over environmental issues, Kimberly-Clark officials said, adding they couldn't discuss details because of an agreement with Atlas.

Department of Ecology spokesman Seth Preston said the area near the plant is part of the state's Puget Sound Initiative cleanup effort. He said state officials haven't determined the extent of the pollution or who's responsible for it. But it did say it's likely Kimberly-Clark or a new owner would play a role.

Preston said that a state sample of the sediments in Port Gardner Bay in 2008 found concentrations of a suspected cancer causing chemical -- dioxin -- in the area near the plant. He said dioxin there was about 50 parts per trillion. About 4 parts per trillion "is considered natural background for Puget Sound," he added.

Atlas, as part of its due diligence for the sale, hired someone to take sediment samples in October-November and found concentrations of dioxin at 100 parts per trillion on one location. Half the samples on Kimberly-Clark property held dioxin concentrations above 50, Preston added.

Exposure to small amounts of dioxins can possibly increase the risk of cancers in humans.

Atlas has not returned phone calls from The Herald.

Dioxin can be formed in industrial processes, such as using chlorine bleach to whiten pulp, or in waste incineration. Kimberly-Clark and its predecessors used the chlorine process for many years, although it was changed in 2000 to chlorine dioxide, which is considered safer on the environment.

The company also burned hog fuel to create steam it used at the plant and electricity used by the Snohomish County PUD.