Potlatch To Temporarily Idle 3 Mills

Wood products company said it would halt operations at three northern Idaho mills, temporarily laying off 415 workers.

LEWISTON, Idaho (AP) -- Potlatch Corp. is cutting back operations at three northern Idaho mills, temporarily laying off 415 workers.

The Spokane, Wash.-based wood products company said it would halt operations at its Lewiston lumber mill on Monday, with work to resume Dec. 1, idling 220 workers for the three weeks.

Potlatch, Idaho's largest private landowner, will close its St. Maries plywood mill from Nov. 10 through 14, resume production from Nov. 17-24, then stop again until Dec. 1, affecting 160 workers. Its Post Falls particle board plant, with 35 employees, currently is closed and will remain so until orders increase.

"The wood products market is at a 25-year low now and the amount of orders from our customers is not improving," Matt Van Vleet, Potlatch's Lewiston spokesman, told the Lewiston Tribune. "So we unfortunately have no choice but to balance our product (inventory) with demand."

The only Potlatch wood products operations running normal schedules in upcoming weeks are sawmills in St. Maries and Warren, Ark., Van Vleet said.

Van Vleet said all hourly employees at the Lewiston mill can take paid vacation if they have it available. Salaried employees will take vacation or work on projects, he said.

The company also said a stud mill that employs 120 workers in Gwinn, Mich., will be down Nov. 17 through Nov. 30. Another 60 employees at a stud mill in Bemidji, Minn., will be temporarily out of work through Nov. 14.

In October, the company warned it might have to reduce hours.

"Markets have deteriorated since the end of September and it is very difficult to see a catalyst that will change our outlook before year end," Mike Covey, Potlatch's chief executive officer, said at the time.

Potlatch workers in northern Idaho have faced downtime previously this year. In June, the company laid off about 100 people in the sawmill and a cedar products plant for about a week when rain and snow melt prevented the company from getting logs to the mill.

The company employs about 1,700 people in Lewiston, with some of them making tissue products and paperboard, for which demand remains high.

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