Representatives from Kimberly-Clark & #039;s corporate headquarters were in town this week to negotiate a severance package for the 63 hourly employees who will be out of work when they close the doors on their East Ryegate plant later this month.

Representative Ron Pickering from the Pace International Union made no attempts to conceal his disgust about the results.

"It was sad - extremely sad," said Pickering.

He said there were some positive things to come out of negotiations, but the biggest negative was the severance pay itself. According to Pickering, Kimberly-Clark has agreed to give employees one half week of pay for every year of service at the plant. All employees will receive four weeks of pay regardless of when they started, but severance pay is capped at 13 weeks, even for the one employee Pickering said has worked there for 42 years.

That & #039;s pretty bad," Pickering said. "It reflects corporate America, it reflects greed, it reflects a lack of concern for this devastating action to the employees."

Kimberly-Clark has also agreed to provide some equipment, but no funding, to a nonprofit agency to help with training and job placement for the work force. Pickering said the Department of Employment and Training will send a "rapid-response team" to the site next week.

Tina Barry, a spokeswoman from Kimberly-Clark & #039;s Dallas headquarters, insisted the decision to close the plant was not taken lightly.

She said it was simply a matter of falling demand for the technical paper goods produced at the East Ryegate facility, combined with increased competition, particularly from overseas.

Citing a confidentiality agreement with the union, Barry refused to discuss the terms of the severance package other than to say she believed they were "fair and just."

Pickering said the package he asked for - and one that is not uncommon for plant closures - would include a full week & #039;s pay for every year employed, and a cap of 26 weeks instead of 13.

Kimberly-Clark recently reported operating profits of $1.85 billion for the first three-quarters of 2001. But Barry said a trend of higher production capacity and lower demand in the technical paper sector was not expected to turn around in the foreseeable future, and Kimberly-Clark could no longer support two mills. Much of the equipment and capacity of the East Ryegate mill is being consolidated at company & #039;s mill in Munising, Mich.

The last day of production at the facility will be Dec. 21. All employees will be phased out by the end of January.

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