AbitibiBowater told employees at its Catawba plant Thursday that the paper mill will temporarily close from Dec. 24 to Jan. 1 this year because of conditions resulting from the global economic slowdown.
"We have been affected by the global economic recession like many people have," said Barry Baker, human resources manager. "And this is a balancing of the supply and demand for our product."
Bowater merged in 2007 with Canadian paper-maker Abitibi Consolidated to become AbitibiBowater.
Baker said the plant south of Rock Hill -- which employs 940 and has for years been one of York County's largest employers -- met with union leaders and employees Thursday morning to tell them about the decision to temporarily shut down the plant.
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He said employees will be eligible for holiday pay and can use vacation time or other paid time off to continue earning during the time the plant is closed.
"We did it at this time of year to minimize the effects on them," Baker said. He said the decision was made early so employees "can do some planning to move vacations to that period."
AbitibiBowater produces newsprint, other commercial printing products, market pulp and wood products. The Catawba operation, established in 1957, churns out coated paper for magazines and books and market pulp for paper towels, tissue and other products.
In recent years, the industry has grappled with troubles that include too much capacity, declining consumption of its products and a growing threat of competition from China.
"In our case, advertising and the curtailment in ad products causes a reduction in the demand for our product," Baker said.
Baker said inventories throughout the industry are high and the shutdown will help reduce that. Competitors also have announced recent down time, he said.
He said the December idling will affect all areas of the plant, which will be staffed during the holidays with "a minimal group to help with security and protection."
The Catawba plant, he said, has not previously had a temporary shutdown due to economic conditions, which he said are worse than in the past.
However, Baker also expressed optimism. "The Catawba team is strong," he said. "And we will get through this together."
AbitibiBowater, with nearly 16,000 employees, owns or operates 27 pulp and paper mills and 34 wood products plants in North America and offshore.